I Used to Think I Was Mistaken, but I Was Mistaken

Did you ever make a mistake? Of course you did. We all do. For as H.L. Wayland (1830~1898) wrote, “The only people who make no mistakes are dead people. I saw a man last week who has not made a mistake for four thousand years. He was a mummy in the Egyptian department of the British Museum.”

Yes, we all make mistake, but did you notice the difference between the mistakes you make and those that others make? You see, when we make a mistake, we usually consider it an `unavoidable’ or `honest’ mistake, but when someone else does the same thing, we tend to think it is an `inexcusable’ or `stupid’ mistake. Isn’t that odd? To better understand the subject and avoid making them, let’s look at some of the most common mistakes we make.

1. JUDGING OTHERS. When we call someone’s mistake `stupid,’ we are judging them. That is, we are applying a label to them. And labels obscure and conceal reality. They make us blind to the goodness of others. They are also emotional, directing our attention away from rational thought. For example, take a look at these three sentences: He is an enthusiast. He is a zealot. He is a fanatic. Although the first sentence may be positive, the other two, especially the last, are tinged with emotions and may evoke suspicion, fear, and anger.

2. IGNORE OUR OWN MISTAKES. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to ignore our own. For mistakes are lessons to be learned, and when we stop learning, we stop growing. Confucius taught, “To make a mistake and not correct it — that, indeed, is a mistake.” In other words, if you make a blunder and learn nothing from it, it’s a mistake. But if you take a misstep and learn something, it’s a valuable lesson. The moral is, if we stop attacking the mistakes of others and start admitting our own, we will learn a great deal.

3. FEAR OF MAKING ONE. Some people are afraid to take chances. They are scared that if they make a mistake they will be ridiculed. The fear of making a mistake is a serious mistake because it hinders our progress. Not only does it stop us from growing, but it prevents us from discovering the glorious adventure that life is meant to be. Each moment that we hesitate to act because we don’t want to make a mistake and look stupid, another person is busy making mistakes, learning from them, and looking smart. We claim we want to be successful, but how is that possible without making mistakes along the way? Today, give yourself permission to make mistakes, for once you do, you have also given yourself permission to succeed.

4. LIFE HAPPENS. Some people say, “Life happens. Stuff happens. Things happen.” In other words, “I can’t help what happens to me, it just happens.” That type of thinking makes us powerless victims. But the wise person says, “It is not life, stuff, or things that happen; it is CONSEQUENCES that happen. That is, it is the results of the choices I make that happen.” This realization makes us powerful, for if we don’t like what is happening to us, all we have to do is change what we choose to do.

5. FORGET EVERYTHING CHANGES. Why do we forget life is synonymous with change? It is helpful to keep this fact in mind. For when we find ourselves caught up in unpleasant circumstances, remembering that “this too will pass” will give us the courage to move on. And when we are happy with our present state of affairs, remembering it may all change for the worse makes us prudent, alerting us to prepare for the unexpected. After all, tsunami, floods, fire, earthquakes, pandemics, hurricanes, and any number of other disasters may strike at any time.

6. FORGET WE WILL ALL DIE. Of course, we don’t really forget we will all die; we just suppress it. But if we were to remain aware of the frailty and brevity of life, we would behave differently. For example, in your dealings with others, how can you become angry, hold a grudge, or seek revenge knowing that they are on their deathbed? Have you no compassion? How can you procrastinate knowing that life is a candle flame about to be snuffed out by the wind? Would you rather live like a coward, suppressing thoughts of death, or face it and live courageously? If you are served delicious ice cream, don’t you want to enjoy it before it melts? So, too, does death remind us to cherish life while we have it and to enjoy its magnificence before it `melts.’

7. AFRAID TO ADMIT WE’RE WRONG. As long as we’re afraid to admit we’re wrong, we stop learning. And by refusing to admit our mistake, we appear like a fool, but when we admit it and learn from it, we prove that we are wise. Here is a useful, little ditty by Arthur Guiterman (1871~1943): “Admitting Error clears the Score / And proves you Wiser than before.”

8. HANDLING THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS IMPROPERLY. Rather than pointing out their errors, point out where the other person can find the truth. Would you rather be right and friendless or helpful and surrounded by friends? Don’t become upset by the mistakes of others. Give them the benefit of doubt; after all, they’re just doing their best under the circumstances. Besides, making mistakes is part of our nature. How can you become angry because someone acts like a human? What’s more, the mistakes of others are nothing more than opportunities for us to practice forgiveness, for as Alexander Pope (1688~1744) wrote, “To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine.”

9. RASHNESS. Don’t say or do anything before you think about it. The sting of hurtful words still remains after an apology. Resist acting on preconceptions, opinions, or unverified beliefs. Be thoughtful rather than impulsive, and if you want to have a safe landing, don’t jump to conclusions.

10. YOU ARE HERE TO SERVE LIFE. IT’S NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND. Life is simply the Inexpressible expressing Itself. We are notes in the Symphony of Life. We are here to experience, enjoy, and add to it. Expecting the world to conform to us rather than us adapting to the world only leads to frustration, resistance, and unhappiness.

11. NOT WATCHING THE WORDS WE USE. We program computers by typing program code, but humans program themselves with the words they think or talk about. Think or talk about victory and you become victorious. Incessantly and morbidly think and talk about failure and your words will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, dragging you down to ruin. Watch what you say to yourself and others!

12. NOT GETTING ALONG WITH OTHERS. When we fight rather than cooperate with others, we diminish our power and happiness. If we can’t get along with others, it is not because something is wrong with them, but because we haven’t mastered the incredibly important art of relationship building. If you have problems in this area, don’t waste another moment; go to your local library or bookstore and get a book on how to get along with others. Here are three examples of helpful books.

* Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions

* Relationships 101

* The Language of Emotional Intelligence: The Five Essential Tools for Building Powerful and Effective Relationships

13. DELAY ACTION. Some put off their plans because of fear of failure. Waiting for the perfect moment to start a new project doesn’t make sense because there will never be the `perfect’ moment. There will just be NOW. Either we use it or lose it. Jerry Gillies makes a good point: “I have made decisions that turned out to be wrong, and went back and did it another way, and still took less time than many who procrastinated over the original decision.” So, don’t delay; act today!

14. GIVING UP TOO QUICKLY. Farmers realize that it takes time and hard work before one can harvest the crops. But city folk who are accustomed to instant wireless communication, bullet trains, and computers, have little patience. They want things NOW. If they don’t reach their goals immediately, they abandon them. Aborted dreams scatter the landscape. How many doctors, engineers, authors, artists, and valued tradespeople do not exist simply because students gave up too quickly? The lack of persistence and its relation to failure has led Michael Larsen to say, “Failure is the path of least persistence.”

15. NOT PLANNING. How can life go according to plan, unless we first make a plan? Failing to plan is planning to fail. So, don’t start off each day wondering what will happen. When you have a plan in place and follow it, you will be able to predict your own successful future!

16. FAILING TO REALIZE THE VALUE OF MISTAKES. Although we want to avoid mistakes that will hold us back, don’t lose sight of the value and importance of the blunders we are likely to make. Here are two examples.

Tom asked Mary to marry him and she refused. After getting over his disappointment, Tom is forced to look for a new girlfriend, meets someone better than Mary; they get married and live happily ever after.

Harry is our second example. He got angry at the workplace, was fired, and couldn’t find another job. To survive, he was forced to go into business for himself. As the months passed by, Harry grew increasingly successful, and today he has 25 people working for him.

These two examples explain why Margueritte Harmon Bro said, “Sometimes what you want to do has to fail so you won’t.” Similarly, Henry Ford said, “Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.”

17. FAILING TO LEARN FROM THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS. Heed this sage advice: “From the errors of others a wise man corrects his own.” (Publilius Syrus, 85~43 BC) And Samuel Levenson put it this way, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.”


* Mistakes are the experience we need to become skillful
* Mistakes aren’t harmful until we refuse to correct them.
* We can hide our mistakes, but can’t escape from their consequences
* If you don’t correct your mistake, you’re making another one
* Mistakes are the gateway to discovery
* If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking enough chances
* You’ll never make a mistake if you always do your best
* The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future (Dale Turner)
* Life would be dull without them (Oscar Wilde)

If you have any problems with mistakes, it’s probably because you are not making enough of them. A serious mistake many of us make is to betray our potential because of our fear of making mistakes. Let’s resolve today to courageously and repeatedly step out of our comfort zone, take more risks, learn from our mistakes, benefit from the rewards, and enjoy the excitement life offers its adventurers.