Embracing Mistakes

We all get stuck sometimes, but nothing is much more frustrating than making the same mistake again and again. When that happens, feelings of failure can set in and further derail us. But recognizing that mistakes can ultimately propel us forward can be just what we need to release ourselves from the mistake trap.

One key to getting unstuck is to recognize that blaming others for our mistakes is a lie that not only traps us but dooms us to repeat our mistakes. Instead we need to really look at what’s happening, take responsibility, and apologize. The good news is that the more we accept responsibility, the better off we are. Change is possible as soon as we recognize our mistakes. It’s critical to not be in denial about our own fallibility. The quicker we can do this, the better off we are.

If you look at your life you probably can see how you’ve grown from your mistakes. In fact, I would say most pivotal points in your life originate from mistakes. So why are we so slow to recognize and admit our mistakes to ourselves?

I gave a speech when I was starting my career over twenty years ago, and the speech was so bad that people got up and left. They were unforgiving about it. They just left.

I took a look at it, and of course I was incredibly embarrassed so I did the very first thing: I apologized to my customer. She was great about it. I actually offered to give back the money and she said, “No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad.” And then I went home and sulked for three days.

When I stopped sulking I realized that if I studied what happened, I could actually correct the situation. That speech—which is on honest communication—has now turned into one of the top speeches I give across the world. If I hadn’t accepted responsibility, I would have never grown. We grow by mistakes not by successes.

The reason I didn’t get stuck in the mistake of that terrible speech is that I accepted responsibility. Next, I looked at the lessons, and then I created a plan to correct the situation. Seeing the lesson isn’t enough. You have to formulate a plan and implement it; otherwise history will repeat itself.

In the case of my speech I realized that I didn’t know much about group dynamics and I hadn’t studied the audience. As a result I studied group dynamics, and with some help I developed a way to learn about the audience. That enabled me to adjust my content as appropriate. That’s one example of what I learned from my mistake and a plan I implemented to address the issue.

One place where people commonly make mistakes is in hiring. If you make a bad hire, what can you do? You look at what you missed in the interview and how you can better detect that in the future. Acknowledging your error is the first step. Be honest with yourself first.

I am thankful for that terrible speech I gave more than twenty years ago, because I didn’t get stuck there. My mistake taught me a lot about honesty with myself and about addressing errors. It helped to propel me to where I am today. Don’t hide from your mistakes or pretend they don’t exist. Embrace them as teachers and you won’t be doomed to repeat them.

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