Marvelous Mistakes

 

As the familiar quote by English poet Alexander Pope tells us, “To err is human.”   So why do we get so perturbed when we make a mistake?  Isn’t that normal for us humans to slip up? 

The dictionary definition of a mistake is a wrong action attributable to bad judgment, ignorance or inattention.  Who hasn’t been guilty of lack of knowledge, lack of attention and lack of good judgment?  No one, that’s for sure.

The fact that mistakes are inevitable should tell us something.  God knows what He is doing.  If He created humans with the capacity for making mistakes, then perhaps there is a method to His madness.  He recognizes that making mistakes can be a positive thing in the long run.

Mistakes are prime opportunities for growth.  Since we are bound to make them, we should make the most of the situation and figure out what we should learn from our mistakes.  Henry Ford commented that “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”  We should view mistakes as opportunities in disguise. If we admit we’ve messed up, then we have the chance to analyze what we did and determine how to do better–or at least not make the same mistake again–in the future.

Of course, in the heat of the moment when a mistake is made, it is hard to feel good about having made it.  But taking time to reflect on the error, allows us to formulate a better plan for future action.  Let’s consider some of the blunders I have made and what I have learned from them.

As a teen, I made a big relationship mistake.  I was dating two guys who had names that rhymed.  Let’s call them Dan and Stan to protect their privacy.  My mistake was not dating guys with similar names; my mistake was a slip of the tongue.  Imagine a nice romantic goodnight kiss on my front doorstep.  I murmur, “Good night, Dan.”  Only I wasn’t with Dan.  I was kissing Stan.  Oops!  Good thing it was fairly dark so my red face was not too noticeable.  Lesson learned?  Always engage your brain before opening your mouth.  Words matter, and carelessly said words can hurt even if that was not the intention.

But, of course, I grew up and became a responsible, educated adult.  So, no more mistakes, right?  Wrong!   One night after work I was trying to get a number of domestic tasks accomplished.  I hurriedly entered the amount of the bill I was paying online and did not double check what I had done.  Fast forward a couple weeks to when I got my next bill from that creditor; it indicated I had paid $3,000.00 for a $30.00 bill.  Yikes!  On the bright side, I was in the black and had the money in my checking account so that my check did not bounce.  I then wasted a good half hour on the phone getting the mistake straightened out.  Lesson learned?  Pay attention to detail.  

Ever tried to memorize something?  Sometimes it sticks; sometimes it doesn’t.  Making a mistake can be just the thing to ensure that you will remember something.  In elementary school I misspelled the word “catalog” in a spelling bee and was eliminated from the competition as a result.  To this day I have NEVER forgotten how to spell that word.  As a new lawyer, I gave a wrong answer to a question on a federal bar exam.  I can’t tell you what else was on the exam, but I have NEVER forgotten that there is a time limit for filing a suggestion of death with the court.  Lesson learned?  Committing some mistakes makes such an impression that we won’t ever make that mistake again or forget what we learned.

Often when a mistake is made, we focus on the wrong thing.  What could we have done better/right?  Perhaps a better question is what the error allowed us the opportunity to do, i.e., our reaction to the error is more important than what we did wrong.

A mistake adults often make is to place something important in a “safe place.”  That place sometimes turns out to be so safe that we cannot remember where we put the valuable object.  In my infinite wisdom years back, I decided to put the envelope with my mortgage payment in a book I was caught up in reading.  Why I’d certainly not lose the check because I carried the book with me and read it whenever I got the chance.  But, like the best laid plans, this one went awry.  I got busy and didn’t have time to read.  But it was time to mail the mortgage payment, and I couldn’t find the envelope to send off.  I searched everywhere.

Finally, one morning when driving to work I said a prayer and asked God to show me where the missing envelope was.  No sooner had a silent “Amen” been said than a car pulled in front of me suddenly causing me to slam on the brakes.  The items in my car went flying, including the book which ended up open on the floor revealing the errant envelope.  Hallelujah!  Lesson learned?  Some times the lesson is not how to have avoided the mistake but how to handle the mistake made.  I had the opportunity to build my faith and lean on the Lord to handle the trying situation resulting from my mistake, i.e., a lapse in memory..

And viewing mistakes as something bad or a failure is not always an accurate conclusion.  I took piano for seven years when growing up.  I had to practice daily (no, I wasn’t dedicated, my parents MADE me practice) to improve my playing ability.   When I first worked on a musical piece, the result was not my best.  I may have missed some notes or the timing may have been off, but doing things over again allowed me to improve my skill.  Some actions we take are not our best effort; maybe it is better to view them as working to polish our skill in that area rather than simply making mistakes.

Making mistakes is human  It is a mistake to think we should avoid ever making a mistake because making mistakes, admitting the mistakes and trying to learn from our mistakes is a way to grow and better ourselves.  Thank God for the wonder of blunders!

 

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