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Mistakes Are a Necessary Part of Life; the Key is to Learn from them

I’ve read before – and truly believe it – that we learn much more from failure than we do from success.  No matter how large a success, it serves only to make us feel good about ourselves for a short time.  The accolades fade quickly and we move on to other business. Mistakes, however, stay with us – either as beauty from improved character or as dirt we never manage to wash off.

In the best scenario when making a mistake, we learn something new and move ourselves toward the path that leads to success. What was it that Edison said regarding his many attempts to invent the light bulb?  “I learned 999 ways not to make a light bulb,” or something like that. He didn’t beat himself up about his mistakes; rather, he embraced them, didn’t repeat them, and moved on.

In the worst scenario, we make the same mistake over and over. Typically, this happens because we refuse to admit we have made a mistake. Perhaps it is because of pride; we think others will think less of us if they know we erred or transgressed against another.

Some people think that admitting mistakes is a show of weakness. I completely disagree with that line of thinking.  The greatest strength of character comes from:

  1. Acknowledging our errors willingly and readily (before we are caught and then have no choice but to admit them)
  2. Apologizing to those whom we have hurt, yet not expecting anything in return now or in the future
  3. Demonstrating that we have learned from our mistake by changing our behavior going forward

The truly important thing here is to realize that people are not stupid; they know when we make mistakes, whether or not we admit them. Even when we are successful at hiding something we’ve done, the act of doing so damages our character.  And that my friend, is clearly visible to everyone, every day of our lives.


Now to add my comments on Kathryn’s thoughts:  Agile teaches us to fail early in the project so that the cost of failure will be lower.  Failing later is much more expensive.  The same is true of many things in life.  Suffering the consequences of failure as a child is generally less damaging than the consequences of the same mistake as an adult.  We harm our children when we don’t let them feel the pain of mistakes.  How will they improve if there is no failure?  How will they get stronger if they don’t know they made a mistake?  I think of the line in Wicked said about the Cowardly Lion – “If she had let him fight his own battles, he wouldn’t be a coward today.”

That isn’t to say we leave them alone to fight the same battle again and again.  Kathryn mentions the worst case being making the same mistake over and over.  Actually, the worst case is making the same mistake over and over and never realizing that is was a mistake.  

This is where the next lesson comes into play…