Natalie Frank, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, specializes in pediatric psychology and behavioral health.
We all have made mistakes in our lives and are likely to make more. If we are lucky, they were only small ones which we recognized for what they were quickly and managed to correct them will little difficulty and consequence. Perhaps some of us weren’t as fortunate and made larger mistakes which altered our life course in ways we regret and which we had more difficulty trying to fix or couldn’t identify a way to fix at all.
When this type of mistake is committed even when we recognize it and do our best to rectify it, we may end up in a dark place were we hadn’t anticipated every finding ourselves. These quotes express wisdom and compassion about make mistakes and provide inspiration for when we make another and need a leg up to enable us to correct it.
When we are too scared of making mistakes we will never manage to get anywhere worth going. It is possible by avoiding every possibility of making a mistake that you can prevent yourself from falling down. However, if you never fall down you preclude the possibility of getting up as well. This is not to say that you need to aim for making mistakes.
But perfection is not an option for human beings so striving for that as your sole goal in life means you will miss out on countless growth opportunities and eventually simply stagnate. Mistakes are learning opportunities and the chance to gain strength and learn new coping strategies. The fear of failure has held many potentially great people back. Don’t be potentially great, be great. Fall, get up, make amends and keep going.
While there is more and more evidence of the strong effect of genetics and physiology on our behavior and who we come, the environment shapes those influences in terms of how they ultimately manifest. As we grow up we learn from our experiences and results of the choices we make. Some of our choices are determined by our own experiences and other times we learn from other people’s mistakes through observation.
Who we become and how we view and construct our identity is based on learning. Each mistake we make can, therefore, be viewed as a foundational block that we build on. We can strive to understand why the mistake happened, what we can do to prevent if from happening again and most importantly where the mistake fits in our view of life and the type of person we want to become. By doing this we can use those characteristics we most admire to construct our identity as opposed to having it form on it’s own by just letting things happen to us.
This process makes it so our identity is real and not just an attempt to manage our image in the eyes of others. When we know who we are, know we are in control of our identity which effects how interact with the world and how others view us, this gives us a sense of predictability, the belief that our actions matter and the self confidence to shape our lives in the ways that matter to us.
The idea that failure isn’t an option is one that has become commonplace in recent years. Trying to hold ourselves up to this ideal not only affects how we view ourselves but also how we view others and what is important in life. If we are told that something isn’t an option but this is an impossibility we are forced to find a way to at least make it appear that we aren’t the exception. This means that we become more focused on our image and ensuring no one finds out that we have failed at something than accepting that failure is a part of life and seeing what we can gain from it.
We all have things we are naturally good at doing, things we aren’t good at doing, and things which can become good at or at least better at doing. Failure lets us differentiate between what our skills are and what they aren’t. It also lets us see what we may not be good at right now but that we have the capacity to improve on. It lets us redirect our efforts in ways that are constructive and will let us reach the goals we have set.
Failure and mistakes also bring about new opportunities to try new things and go in new directions. If you refuse to ever risk failure so that you never step outside your comfort zone, you will end up living your life in only one particular way without the chance of learning what else may be out there in the world for you to experience and enjoy.
Learning from our own experience is important and gives us the ability to grow and change into a better person. However, as important as our own experiences are, there isn’t enough time in our life to learn everything by ourselves. While mistakes are good for growth and learning we also don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. In other words, making all the mistakes we would need to make to learn new things and experience everything we want to experience, would skew things toward the need to fail.
We don’t need to learn everything through our own trial and error. Another important way we can learn from mistakes is by learning from others mistakes. Observation and the ability to analyze others behavior and connect the associated consequences, means we don’t always have to fail to learn. We can observe other people’s mistakes and internalize the association between their errors and what occurs as as result can be internalized so we learn just as well from observation as we do from first hand experience.
This is an interesting flip side of what we often think about making mistakes. Lamott suggests that making mistakes teach us who we are but helping us discover who we aren’t. Sometimes it can be difficult to define ourselves in terms of positive attributes. It can be far easier to discuss the attributes that don’t describe us. So instead of saying, “I am a generous person,” it might be easier to say, “I am not a stingy person.”
The same goes for mistakes. For example, saw we want to fit in with the popular crowd and join in with them to make fun of a person who is weaker and won’t fight back. Even as we do it, we know it’s wrong and cruel. We know we won’t repeat this mistake because hurting others to belong to the “in” crowd isn’t the way we want to become popular. It also says more about us than the person we bullied. Perhaps this leads us to start sticking up for other kids who are bullied or seeking other types of friends to surround ourselves with.
So this mistake taught us who we didn’t want to be and lead to us becoming more of the person we did want to be. This is the meaning of the second part of the quote. Sitting around and thinking about how to develop the characteristics we want to embody as a person and trying to gain the insight to do so will not get us very far. It is action and our processing of our actions that lead to many of the insights that shape us into who we become. The tendency to act without overthinking something may, at times, lead to mistakes. But these mistakes will further hone our sense of both the person we don’t choose to be perhaps also directly determining who we ultimately become.
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© 2018 Natalie Frank