The daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, lecturer and philosopher, was attending school away from her home when she indicated in a letter to her father that she was concerned about a mistake that continued to haunt her.
Emerson wrote the following to his daughter: “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; but get rid of them and forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, and you should never encumber its potentialities and invitations with the dread of the past. You should not waste a moment of today to the rottenness of yesterday.”
More than 200 years later, this is still good advice in dealing with the mistakes that will inevitably enter our lives.
According to John Maxwell, mistakes are:
“Messages that give us feedback about life.
Interruptions that should cause us to reflect and think.
Signposts that direct us to the right path.
Tests that push us towards greater maturity.
Awakenings that keep us in the game mentally.
Keys that we can use to unlock the next door of opportunity.
Explorations that let us journey where we’ve never been before.
Statements about our development and progress.”
Everyone makes mistakes. You learn from them. You change. And you move forward. Stumbling is not falling. If you think a mistake is the end of a career, consider the following advice from some icons who are admired for their accomplishments.
As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
President Ronald Reagan put it another way, “What should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on.”
As the great comedian Charlie Chaplin said: “No matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat and fixing my tie, even though I may have just landed on my head.”
“If I wasn’t making mistakes, I wasn’t making decisions,” said Robert Johnson, founder of Johnson & Johnson.
I embrace Dave Ramsey’s approach to mistakes. He said, “As a leader, if I know you care deeply, then when you screw up, I will be quick to give you a second or third chance. However, I have a very low tolerance for your mistakes when you don’t care.”
I think that is a fair way to judge mistakes. Mistakes made by passionate people with the right motivation should be given more leeway than those made by dispassionate people.
I remember seeing an interview with a professional hockey goalie years ago. He basically said, “All of us make mistakes. But how would you like a job where every time you make a mistake, a red light goes on?”
In the words of our favorite baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, “Don’t make the wrong mistakes.”
When I coach our sales staff at MackayMitchell Envelope Company, I always tell them, “It doesn’t matter how many pails of milk you spill just so long as you don’t lose the cow.” They might lose some sales, but don’t lose the account, the cow.
Mistakes are, and always will be, part of the human condition. Try as you may, you will eventually mess up something. How you respond to your error determines just how smart you really are. Look for the silver lining in the cloud, even if it’s just an opportunity to learn how not to make the same mistake over (and over) again. Even better, think about what you may have done well and build on that element. You will have plenty of chances to learn from your inevitable mistakes.
Just make sure that you correct the right mistakes. Many years ago, three vagrants were sentenced to death by the guillotine for their serious unlawful behavior. When the fateful day arrived, the first victim was placed on the guillotine, but it didn’t work.
The executioner shouted “Unbelievable! The laws of our land dictate we must set you free.”
The second drifter was positioned beneath the murderous weapon and again, the guillotine got stuck. He too was set free.
As the third man lay on the platform glaring up at the large blade, he
suddenly blurted out, “Wait a minute. I see your problem. If you would just oil that hinge …”
Mackay’s Moral: Make no mistake, sometimes our best ideas follow our biggest boo-boos.