The Importance of Mistakes

April 02, 2012

“The greatest mistake you can make in life
is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
―Elbert Hubbard

I’ll just tell you up front: I hate making mistakes. Actually, more accurately, I hate admitting I made a mistake.  I know this is holding me back in life—it makes me less likely to step outside my comfort zone, take risks and be honest with myself and others.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never
tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein

For me, there are a couple of levels of mistakes: The first I’m only a little bothered by: when I’m learning something new and therefore can’t be expected to “know it all” (yet), or when it involves something that doesn’t matter much to me. Mistakes like this seem “acceptable,” even to my perfectionistic little soul.

“Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom.”
—William Jordan

The second, more difficult level, involves mistakes made when I “should” know better or when something matters very much to me. In the first instance, when I make a mistake it only reinforces the fact that I am, indeed, human. (I don’t know why this is so difficult for me to feel comfortable with!) In the second instance, when it’s something that matters to me, the stakes seem higher. For example, I find it excruciatingly painful to admit I’ve made mistakes parenting, as I most certainly have. (And I especially have a hard time admitting this to my husband—why is that?!)

I seem to want to keep up a façade of being, if not perfect, at least nearly so. By this time in my life, I feel I should be competent, intelligent and accomplished.  The mistakes I make just show me how very far I have to go to be the person I want to be.

“Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience comes from bad judgment.”
—Rita Mae Brown

In theory, I know the importance of mistakes. I know that without risking mistakes, I will learn nothing, and completely cease any kind of creative or spiritual growth. Denying mistakes makes them impossible to correct, hiding mistakes simply causes them to grow.  It’s just the practice of accepting and admitting mistakes is so hard!

Maybe my resistance to admitting mistakes has something to do with my ongoing battle with perfectionism, with always wanting to do things “right,” with the sometimes impossible standards I aspire to. I simply can’t be a brilliant writer, loving wife and mother, caring friend, perfect homemaker…you get the idea. I’m afraid admitting a mistake in any of these areas only draws attention to the ways in which I believe I fall short.

I wish I had some profound lesson to share with you about how admitting my mistakes has made my life richer, but I’m just starting to see the extent of my resistance to this topic.  I can only tell you that this is now something I hope to stay aware of and work on.

How do you cope with mistakes? What have you learned from them?

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include
the freedom to make mistakes.”
—Mahatma Gandhi

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  1. Most interesting post! Mistake-making is humbling no doubt, especially when it seems a mistake we could have easily avoided if we'd thought it through.

    And yet, one of the most liberating things I've learned to do is simply step up and own "it," whatever mistake it may be. There's relief, there's usually a way to take immediate action (apologize, fix, correct) and there is often forgiveness if the mistake harmed someone. We've all been there, done that and none of us are immune. Dammit! :•)

    In my next life or by the end of this one, I want to be able to laugh at myself and my mistakes and realize I'm living. I'm alive. I'm learning. And it's all okay.....

  2. Laure--Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I've found that when I quickly admit a mistake, others are almost always forgiving and ready to help remedy it--if I could just remember that! I love the attitude of laughing at mistakes. I want to get there, too!

  3. Your post was very thoughtful and honest, Kathy. The older that I get, the less harder I am on myself and on others. I wish that I had done many things different, but, look, it has all turned out fine in spite of myself.

    Long ago I heard that regret in away insults the person that I was long ago, before I new better. Life is a journey, and perhaps when we are better at forgiving ourselves we become better at forgiving others.


    Kathy M.

  4. Oops, first thing in the morning here ... look at all of my spelling mistakes, lol!

  5. Kathy--I really appreciate your beautiful and thoughtful comment. Your perspective is encouraging, and I also find that I am more forgiving of myself and others as I get older. Part of my philosophy is to believe that others are doing the best they can do at the time. I need to apply it to myself!