“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” (Rita Mae Brown)
Mistakes are a given. Over a lifetime, each of us does and says countless things that wound, that embarrass us or others, and that we deeply regret. It is to be hoped, though, that the stupid things we do in our teens and twenties aren’t the same stupid things we do in our forties, fifties, sixties, and beyond.
By the time we reach those later decades, we’ve not only grown beyond our earlier transgressions, but perhaps also learned to let go of the chagrin we carry over those mistakes from our youth.
The good thing about aging is that we get better at learning from our mistakes. Of course, we make new ones, fresh ones, whoppers. Unless we refuse to venture out or try anything new, we will still make mistakes. The only way to avoid them is to hunker down and sidestep all risk, which means also avoiding delight, wonder, and discovery.
Lessons Learned – The lesson for me is twofold:
Find the learning in my mistakes. Where appropriate and especially where my mistakes have hurt someone else, apologize, then move on, with the wisdom not to make that particular mistake again, and to rectify my blunders whenever possible. Carrying them with me for miles or years is a heavy load and serves no one. As long as I take the lessons with me and heed them, I can let go of the guilt and regret. Of course, saying that is easier than doing it. I still cringe in recollection of long-ago faux pas. Perhaps they linger to remind me to be gentle when others err in my direction.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, make them and celebrate them. There is no discovery without risk. There is no creation without risk. And there is no risk without the possibility of error. Mistakes are stepping stones to growth.
Lessons Unlearned – The unlearning is also twofold:
Mistakes aren’t a sign of weakness, nor are they something to be hidden or avoided at the expense of experience. I recall how many times when I was in the business world an employee would try to hide a mistake, which always made it harder to fix once it came to light (as it always does). But when someone on the team admitted a mistake, we could work together to resolve it—often creating a better situation than before the error. I had so much more respect for and trust in those who readily admitted their errors than those who concealed or falsified. Owning our mistakes is a sign of maturity and confidence.
I am not defined by my mistakes. How I respond to them is what molds me. And the people who decide it’s their job to point out and remind us of the missteps and gaffes we made—whether minutes, months, or years ago—are not people who deserve a prominent place in our lives.
Those of us who were raised in cautious homes, with a parent who fretted over what the neighbors might say or how it would look if anyone deviated from acceptable norms, may still be exercising restraint and ruing our blunders. Accept that, too. Move on.
So, this is a lesson both learned and unlearned. I’ve had to unlearn the caution of treading too carefully to avoid any mistakes, while I’ve also learned that mistakes not only aren’t fatal, but sometimes open doors to wondrous discoveries and accomplishments.
Dare I say, “Go forth and blunder”?
“So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.” (Neil Gaiman)