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The Art of Making Mistakes: Why Mistakes and How We Handle Them Matter

Nalini is on the journey to a healthier and happier life, and writes articles with elements of the mind-body-heart-spirit connection.


It is inherent in the human experience to make mistakes, to be flawed, to do things that we wish we had never done. We can avoid making mistakes and try to live a life without mistakes and try to live a life without the regrets that come from making them, but the reality is that we can and will make mistakes, that we will make them more than once, and that we will make them when we think our mistakes are behind us.

Shakespeare's Macbeth reminds us that "what's done is done" and "what's done cannot be undone." How true both statements are in both their similarity and nuance. We cannot live in the past or live forever in the mistakes that we have made but we also cannot ignore the fact that our actions, thoughts, words, and mistakes affect and influence others and the world around us and that we have a responsibility to learn from our mistakes and to better in future.

Can we truly live a life without mistakes? Can you think of any lessons that you have learned that did not involve mistakes? Whether cognitive or of character? Perhaps I have but I do not have any that come to mind. Even with lessons learned in life, mistakes can still be difficult, painful, uncomfortable, or hard to live with. How do we live with our mistakes? And more importantly, how do we learn and go forward from them? Why do the mistakes we make and how we handle them matter?

Part of our learning from mistakes comes from grace. Grace that we are shown from God or a higher power, grace that we show to others, and grace that we are shown from others. I have shown grace to others that should have been shown grace and to those who I could have shown otherwise. And I have been shown grace when I did not deserve it and also in times when I could have been shown otherwise, and each time it is humbling and fills me with gratitude for the unexpected kindness and for the opportunity I have been given to do better and to be a better person.

But what is grace? And why does it matter?

Mercy and grace are closely related and both are involved in our growth process. Mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve and grace is God giving us something we do not deserve. Grace is receiving kindness, compassion, empathy, or goodness that we do not deserve and so by extension, we can choose to show each other grace or we can choose not to show each other grace in our lives and experiences. Whether or not we choose to show grace to others paves the way for the growth that others undergo in their lives but also paves the way for the grace that we will be shown in our own lives. To withhold grace from others in the mistakes that they make is to withhold from them the gift of the opportunity to do better and to grow and is to withhold grace from ourselves in the mistakes we make in the future; and is to live under the false security that we will never make mistakes. For how else could we confidently, and in some cases, callously, not show others grace when they make mistakes?

Grace is not found in saving the world, although it could play a part. Grace is found more commonly in navigating the mundane. It is found in our mistakes and in continually making them. And interestingly enough, while the foundational aspect of mistakes is that they are how humans learn and grow, making mistakes and seeing how an individual responds to their own mistakes and to the mistakes of others reveals some of our central character traits and values. When someone makes a mistake someone else is in a position of power, and someone is "right" and someone is "wrong." The person that made the mistake is wrong or is in the wrong and has less power, and the person who is right has more power. How do we act and behave when we are in the wrong? How do we act and behave when we have more power and when someone else is wrong?


When in the position of power and someone makes a mistake, it can be easy to lash out and to get angry. It can be easy to say "I told you so," "I knew it all along," or "how could you do something like that?" It can be easy to give or to say to that person what they deserve or to reciprocate to them as good as they have given and it is easy to embrace the power that one has in a moment and to draw clear separations between ourselves and the person that made the mistake. It takes a greater and more powerful person to give better and to say, "we all make mistakes" and to give grace when he or she could have given otherwise. It takes a greater person to create common ground and to create a space in which both can move forward.

When in the position of wrong or less power, it can be easy to blame others for the mistake, lack accountability, or to fail to acknowledge one's error and to not work on improvement. No one likes to be wrong or to have to admit they were wrong, but being able to take ownership of our wrongs and communicate this ownership and make changes and improvements accordingly and in earnest are important and the absence of this in mistake-making is generally noted.

Responses that Give Grace

1. "We all make mistakes."

2. "It happens."

3. "it happens to me too."

4. "Thank you for letting me know."

When we make mistakes, we sense the weight of what is at stake. We can loose face, respect, credibility, appreciation, and in some cases, the life we know. We can reveal aspects of ourselves that we do not want to reveal and perhaps even reveal parts of ourselves that we would rather did not exist.

But when we make mistakes, we have an opportunity, sometimes benign and sometimes painful or difficult, to grow, to improve, to do better and to be a genuine better version of ourselves and to make the world a better and kinder place. When we show others grace when they make mistakes, we support them in their journey and allow them to have the opportunity to undergo this growth and to decide to take the opportunity should they so choose. In doing this, we also open up future grace for ourselves in our own life journeys and in the mistakes we will inevitably make.

But when we make mistakes, we have an opportunity, sometimes benign and sometimes painful or difficult, to grow, to improve, to do better and to be a genuine better version of ourselves and to make the world a better and kinder place.


© 2020 Nalini Marquez


Nalini Marquez (author) on July 14, 2020:

Thank you, Eric! I appreciate your comment and you reading the article. I agree! It is one of the most important things we do, especially since making mistakes is a large part of the human experience and journey.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 12, 2020:

Nice treatment of an important topic. I gave up right a long while ago, although sometimes I get paid for being right ;-)

How we deal with someone who is wrong might be one of the most important things we do.

Nalini Marquez (author) on July 10, 2020:

Thank you, manatita44! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.



manatita44 from london on July 10, 2020:

Noble effort, Nalini. Thank you.

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