Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power. -Hugh White
By Mark E. Smith
Have you ever made a grievous mistake, one that you immediately regretted, one that you wished you never made, one that made you think less of yourself?
I have – and a lot more than once.
Not too long ago, I made just such a mistake. I pride myself on not losing my temper, not saying anything I’ll regret, only showing respect toward others. However, not too long ago, I said something to someone close to me that I truly regretted. It wasn’t who I am, and certainly not who I wanted to be, but in a really weak, lousy moment on my part, I said something that came out of all of the wrong emotions, and it hurt the other person and violated trust.
For me, I immediately knew I wasn’t just in the wrong, but made a grievous mistake. There’s really only two things we should never do in life: One, never hurt another person’s feelings, albeit someone close or a stranger. And, two, never violate trust. And, I did both.
I called the person the next morning, took full accountability, and was prepared for the person to hang up on me. But, with I suspect some caution, my sincere apology was accepted. However, an apology didn’t resolve much for me; I still felt horrible about what I’d said the eve before. Yet, as I shared with the person, my job wasn’t to pity myself for acting so poorly; rather, my job was to take accountability, to understand what vulnerabilities, insecurities, and character flaws fueled a split-second reaction that I was truly ashamed of. I needed to understand why I did what I did, and strive to never do it again.
We all make mistakes – some more grievous than others, as I’ve done at points in my life. But, the biggest mistake that we can make is to allow a mistake to define us instead of using it as a lesson to refine us. See, when we let mistakes define us, we don’t correct the behavior, we perpetuate it. I failed that class because I’m a bad student…. She dumped me because I’m a jerk…. I lost that job because I’m an idiot…. When we allow mistakes to define us, nothing gets resolved – and there’s truly no accountability.
Yet, look what happens when mistakes don’t define us, but refine us: I failed that class, but I’m going to study harder next semester…. She dumped me, but I know that I need to treat my partner better…. I lost that job, but I’m coming in early and staying late at the next…. When we don’t allow mistakes to define us, but to refine us, it’s the ultimate accountability. Put simply, let’s not say how stupid we are, but show how smart we are by learning from our mistakes.
If we’re alive, we’re going to make mistakes – sometimes really, really bad ones. However, if we let them define us – I’m just an idiot – we’re not learning, but merely propagating the mistake, where we keep making it. Instead, when we make mistakes, let’s learn from them and strive to be refined by them, where we take accountability and grow.
As for me, there’s still refining going on – and always will be. To make mistakes is human; and, so is learning from them.