John-Roger and Peter McWilliams

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 making.

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 now."

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.

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Nature does not require that we be perfect; it requires
only that we grow, and we can do this as well
from a mistake as from a success.

Rollo May


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Like most people, Aunt Hattie Mae explained, I saw my mistakes as
failures--setbacks and defeats to disappoint, depress, or demoralize me.
What they really are, however, are opportunities.  Because it is from
our mistakes that we learn the lessons we need to develop and grow. . . .
Mistakes aren't just our teachers; they're also our motivators.  They
cause us to reexamine our choices, revise our plans, and, in some cases,
reconsider the way we live our lives.  And change them for the better. . . .
The person who makes no mistakes doesn't usually make anything.
And when you learn to see your mistakes for what they are--compulsory
education--the harder you fall, the higher you'll bounce.

Patti LaBelle