Freedom isn’t worth having if it doesn’t include
the freedom to make mistakes.
It takes considerable courage to take risks. Why is that?
The answer is simple: taking risks will inevitably involve
making mistakes. I used to feel like a failure when I
made a mistake. After all, in school we were encouraged
to get it right—not to risk making a mistake.
Making a mistake might mean a lower grade. At work,
a mistake might be embarrassing and shameful, maybe
even lead to losing the job. Oddly enough, it turns out
that making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn.
Learning through our mistakes involves considerable
soul growth as well.
The most important life lessons we ever learn are
from the decisions we make that don’t turn out so
well. These decisions can be priceless to our growth in
anything, whether it be at school, work, or in relationships.
We can also learn about ourselves through our mistakes.
For those who listen to their fear of failure and are led
by it, life can be a scary place made safe only by never
getting into trouble, never breaking rules and never
taking the risks that their hearts tell them they need to
take in order to move on.
Can we learn without making mistakes? Sure! Do we
learn as much or as deeply if we attempt to steer clear
of the risks that might lead to getting it wrong? Definitely
not. And yet, mistakes are stressful. That stress
can only be relieved if we look at the mistake as a great
opportunity to learn and not beat ourselves up. If we
get into blaming anyone else or even blaming ourselves,
we might miss that golden opportunity.
So many of us try to do everything perfectly—as if
there really were such a thing—rather than allowing
our own creative minds to embrace the concept of
moving on and learning from our mistakes.
Learning from mistakes requires putting ourselves in
the position of taking calculated risks—the kinds of
risks that lead to interesting and worthy mistakes. It
also requires that we dare to admit to our mistakes—
outwardly and inwardly—so that we can move into
finding creative solutions to our problems. No doubt
that this takes courage. It can, however, mean that we
get to absorb new ideas and move forward.
The world landscape is strewn with stories of success
rising from the ashes of failure. Yet the very thought of
making a mistake tends to strike fear in our hearts like
nothing else. It’s astonishing how little tolerance there
is for it in our culture considering some of the world’s
greatest accomplishments involved mistakes and failures.
Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred
playing his own compositions instead of improving his
technique. His teacher called him hopeless as a composer.
More than twenty-five publishers turned down Margaret
Mitchell’s classic Gone with the Wind before it was
Twenty-seven publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’ first children’s
book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry
Street. The twenty-eighth publisher, Vanguard press,
sold six million copies of the book.
Babe Ruth, often considered to be the greatest athlete
of all-time and famous for setting the home run record,
also holds the record for strikeouts.
Winston Churchill, the Nobel Prize-winning,
twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom
wasn’t always as well regarded as he is today. Churchill
struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After
school he faced many years of political failures, as he
was defeated in every election for public office until he
finally became the Prime Minister at age 62.
Here are a few ideas for facing the rocky road of mistakes
and moving on:
• Acknowledge that you don’t expect yourself to be
• Take responsibility for your mistakes instead of
• Congratulate yourself for having the courage to try
new things, to be creative, to learn.
• Once you see your mistake, don’t beat yourself up–
focus on the solution.
• Think back to some of the best mistakes you’ve
made—the ones that taught you the most.
• Commend yourself for your efforts and the courage
to overcome setbacks.
Because we are human, we can’t help but make mistakes.
We suffer from relationships where we make
countless mistakes, parenting where we have no idea
what to do next, failures at work, and deteriorating
health. And when we do fail, the wounds may penetrate
so deeply into our psyche that we might begin to
think, “I am a mistake,” rather than “I made a mistake.”
We then might begin to make safe choices, to settle for
less than we really want, out of fear of feeling humiliated.
We may be too afraid to take risks. And without a
certain amount of risk, there is no success.
Experiences are what teach us the lessons that help
us make better judgment calls. Mistakes help us to
get right-sized, stay humble and, best of all, they are
the greatest teachers of all time. When we take risks—
some of which will become mistakes—we get to feel
courageous. Our self-esteem grows, and we can be
proud of ourselves.
Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes.
Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.
Once the immediate feelings cease to be intense,
failure is not about loss, deficiency and flaws. It’s
about learning lessons and courageously moving on.
It’s about retaining hope and the instinct for joy. The
lessons that mistakes teach us make us wiser, stronger
and more prepared for the rest of our journey.
What would it be like to look at failure in a different
light, to take it out of the darkness of guilt and shame,
to remove the sense of disaster associated with making
mistakes, to look for what it tells us about our well
being and our conduct in life? What enormous good
energy would be freed up? And what might be the
outcome of that amazing new energy?