One of the least disguised of the Master Teachers in Disguise is
Mistakes. Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs
improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had
to work on?
This seems an invaluable aid to learning, and yet many people
avoid situations in which mistakes might take place. Many
people also deny or defend the mistakes they've made--or may be
There is a story told of Edison, who made, say, 1,000 unsuccessful
attempts before arriving at the light bulb. "How did it
feel to fail 1,000 times?" a reporter asked. "I
didn't fail 1,000 times," Edison replied. "The
light bulb was an invention with 1,001 steps."
Why don't most of us see our own lives in this way? We think
it goes back to unworthiness. We assume a façade of
perfection in a futile attempt to prove our
worthiness. "An unworthy person couldn't be this
perfect," the façade maintains. Alas, being human, we
make mistakes. Mistakes crack the façade. As the
façade crumbles, a frantic attempt is made to hide the hideous
thing (unworthiness) the façade was designed to hide--from
ourselves as much as from others.
If we didn't play this game of denial with ourselves, we would
make mistakes when we make them, admit them freely, and ask not,
"Who's to blame?" or "How can I hide this?"
but "What's the lesson here? How can I do this better?
The goal becomes
excellence, not perfection.
One of the best examples of how strong the taboo against making a
mistake has become is the use of the word sin. In
Roman times, sin was a term used in archery. It meant
simply to miss the mark. At target practice, each shot was
either a hit or a sin. If you sinned, you made corrections
and tried again.
Today, of course, sin means, to quote the American
Heritage, "A condition of estrangement from God as a
result of breaking God's law." Whew. No wonder
people avoid even "the near occasion" of sin. Some
people treat mistakes with the same reverence.
Mistakes are valuable if, for no other reason, they show us what not
to do. As Joseph Ray told us, "The Athenians, alarmed
at the internal decay of their Republic, asked Demosthenes what to
do. His reply: "Do not do what you are doing
In Hollywood, mis-takes are common. (That was wonderful,
darlings. Now let's get ready for take two.")
Give yourself as many re-takes as you need. Stars do
it. ("I didn't feel quite right with that one, Mr.
DeMille. Can we take it again?") Why not you?
A Hollywood song (lyrics by Dorothy Fields) sums it all up:
"Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over
again." Or, to quote an African proverb, "Do not
look where you fell, but where you slipped."
If you're learning, growing and trying new things--expect
mistakes. They're a natural part of the learning
process. In fact, someone once said, "If you're not
making at least 50 mistakes a day, you're not trying hard
enough." What the person meant, we think, is that
growth, discovery and expansion have mistakes built into them.
To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the
biggest mistake of all.