The Best Kind of Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. The most successful people admit to them quickly.

The best kind of mistake you can make is one that you learn from. The worst mistakes are the ones you won’t admit. Those are the worst mistakes because you are very unlikely to learn anything from a mistake that you don’t have the courage to admit. 

Yes, I said courage because most of us have been taught that mistakes are bad, mistakes are shameful and mistakes lead to failure. If you’ve been taught that your entire life then it indeed takes courage to stand up and say that you messed up.

If you “secretly” know that you’ve made a mistake it’s a pretty safe bet that other people know it too, or they will soon enough. If you’ve made a mistake the first step in learning from it is to admit it, admit it to yourself and anyone else that needs to know. You don’t need to announce it to the world but don’t try to hide it from people close to you either.

Mistakes are inevitable and if you spend time with people who expect you to be perfect then you may want to find some other people to spend time with.

To learn from a mistake you must also understand the difference between a reason and an excuse. If you are very good at finding excuses for your mistakes then you won’t be very good at learning from them. If you understand the reasons for your mistakes then you have a chance to learn. 

One way to find the reason for a mistake is to understand the difference between an actual mistake and a bad decision. First of all, if you’ve made the same “mistake” several times it likely isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a poor decision. Mistakes repeated again and again are actually choices and to avoid these “mistakes” you must simply make better choices. 

For instance, in most cases being late for work isn’t a mistake. It resulted from a bad decision, either to stay up too late, to sleep in too long at just not leave home soon enough. If you don’t want to be late then make a decision to leave home earlier.

It’s also important to understand that not all mistakes are the result of something you’ve done. Many mistakes come from doing nothing, nothing at all. Some people fear mistakes so much that they won’t make decisions for fear of making a bad one. They fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision and it is the wrong decision in almost every circumstance. You can learn from both types of mistakes but mistakes born out of inaction often seem to be far more expensive to fix.

Learn to view your mistakes as opportunities for growth. Don’t go out of your way to make mistakes but don’t hide from trying new things to avoid them either. 

If you’re only making little mistakes then you’re probably not pushing the edges of your comfort zone enough. Growth doesn’t come from repeatedly doing what we are good at, it comes from trying new things. Allow yourself a mistake now and then and when mistakes happen embrace them as an opportunity to discover a better way of doing something. 

You may think that never trying new things protects you from mistakes but if your goal is to grow then not attempting something new is the biggest mistake you can make. 

Never make that mistake! 


7 thoughts on “The Best Kind of Mistake

  1. I’ve read a lot about making mistakes, and come to think of it I’ve probably made a lot of mistakes. This post is more insightful than the Twitter-sized advice such as “fail forward,” which is valid but a bit too short sometimes.

    1. Thanks Michael, that’s exactly why I blog…Twitter is too short sometimes. Good luck with your next mistake, may it prove to be an excellent teacher!

  2. I think you hit the nail on the head! Not deciding or staying idle is still a decision. A costly one at that, and those are decisions that are often overlooked in retrospectives and project postmortems meetings.

    My guiding principal is, you should not waste energy complaining about the destination if you choose not to be a part of the journey.

    As Michael suggested above there are a couple sayings or pieces of advice I hear regularly, “fail forward” or “fail fast fail often”. So if failing is learning and we are surrounded by a society that has a low tolerance for failure, how do we grow?

    1. I would suggest “we” ignore the society that takes a dim view of failure but remember them with a soft heart as we look at them in our rear view mirror while driving on the road to success.

  3. Great post Steve! I appreciate how you emphasized the importance of admitting mistakes while explaining the difference between making a mistake and owning it and making an excuse.

    A few months ago I spent several weeks with a group of teens. Initially they all said that they make mistakes but admitted that it is hard to admit when that happens.

    A few weeks later one of the teens shared a story about a teacher that had made a mistake that day, the entire class knew it, but the teacher did not own it or apologize. This teen was very frustrated and angry with the teacher’s behavior – until I reminded the teens that each one of them had admitted how hard it is to admit their own mistakes. It was a great way to emphasize how quickly we lose credibility when we won’t take ownership of our mistakes.

    1. We would be so differently if we could see how other people saw us. That teacher lost a bunch of credibility and looked silly doing it. The teacher certainly “taught” that day but I’ll bet the lesson wasn’t the one the teacher had in mind. 😊

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