How To Love Your Mistakes (In 4 Easy Steps)

As someone who is always trying to “deal with the literal world in a positive way“, I have come to really appreciate the mistakes I’ve made (and there have been plenty).

Now I’m sure your reaction to that is – “appreciate mistakes??” Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

In my half-full world, the ability to take positive things out of the errors I make is critical to making my life’s journey a fulfilling one (and, in a more “ground level” way, my business career a successful one).  I’ve found that there are four important steps I need to make to leverage those mistakes properly:

  1. Acknowledgment
  2. Correction
  3. Learning
  4. Rear View Mirror

Let’s take a closer look at these steps – first, there’s acknowledgment.   The simple admission, to others and most importantly to yourself, that you made a mistake.

I remember back in 1999 and 2000 when I thought I was the best stock day trader in the world. I had an E-trade account and was wheeling and dealing like a Wall Street pro – or so I thought.   When the tech bubble burst around that time I refused to believe I had erred by taking so many positions in risky dot-com companies.   I didn’t bail out in time because I didn’t acknowledge my mistake. I was too proud to admit that day trading was something I shouldn’t be doing. I learned a valuable lesson from this – you have to have the self-awareness to know when you’ve made an error.

Next comes correction.   After you’ve admitted a mistake it needs to be fixed.   This one is most important in my business world.   We provide a service, and sometimes we don’t get it right the first time.   We have to quickly respond and get the customer happy.   There’s a great silver lining to this, one that really contributes to the ultimate benefit of errors – it’s a documented fact that a customer who had a bad experience but it was fixed to their satisfaction is much more likely to be a loyal customer than someone who never had a problem.

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!  So once you know you’ve gone wrong, correct it as soon as you can.

Then there’s the learning that comes from mistakes.   This always reminds me of that great saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by George Santayana.  The lessons I’ve taken from my errors have been without a doubt the most valuable of my life.

The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career, for example, was to decide to make a cross-country move to work for someone I was just not compatible with from a leader/manager standpoint.   I’ve written in my blog about how I had to pull myself out of that situation to get my “mojo” back, but the other thing I took away from it were two great lessons –  I was never going to put myself in that kind of work situation again, and better still, because of the mistake I now knew exactly the kind of leader I wanted to be and the kind of business environment I wanted to be in.

Yes, we have to learn from those mistakes we make, or we will indeed repeat them.

Lastly, while we need to take the time to reflect on the lessons from our mistakes, once that is done and we’ve absorbed the learning, we must let the mistake itself go, or what I call “put it in the rear view mirror“.  Why?  because if we don’t we can become paralyzed because of the fear of making another mistake.  This isn’t the easiest thing to do sometimes – there have been occasions for me where I would be poised to do something and all of a sudden the memory of a past error (and its consequences) would flash in my head, and I would hesitate.   Most of the time I can stifle it, but there are still occasions when I can’t.

But I try to learn from that too – it’s a constant and consistent desire that keeps driving me forward.  I need to learn. I HAVE to learn.

I hope that this 4-step approach that’s come from my life experiences can help you with your learning too, and as you use them, be joyful, jubilant and brave!

(Note: This is the second selection of my “Joyful Jubilant Learning – The Reprise” series. This post originally appeared on JJL on August 9, 2007)


  1. says

    I think you make so really important points here as many people struggle with making mistakes despite the fact that mistakes are a big part of success. Really successful people ahve made loads of mistakes in their time, but it is how they respond to them that turns them into successes. So I think learning to respond versus react to mistakes makes a huge difference to the ultimate outcome and is a distinction worth keeping in mind.

  2. says

    Terry, this is excellent. Coincidentally, my twitter stream recently has been showing me the importance of making mistakes as a means of growing anyway so this is particularly timely. Your message is important and well-said.

  3. says

    Thanks Ali and Ed for your comments!

    Ali, struggling is certainly part of the process – I can’t say I really like the mistakes themselves; just the lessons I get out of them.

    Ed, I’m glad this post has helped you, and thanks for the kind words.

    All the best to you both!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *