We all make mistakes, but our biggest mistake comes when we fight against our humbling moments and try to cover up or deny our mistakes. We are much better at pointing out the flaws and failings of others, and much too often in our desire to protect ourselves we quickly point the finger as far away from ourselves as possible. There is not a lot of growth in this type of approach to life, communication or relationships. We might feel that we were right, or the other person wronged us in some way, but we might also feel lonely and disconnected from those with whom we would like to connect. Feeling righteous and justified can lead to a lonely life. If we want an authentic life, and substantial relationships, we have to start by being authentic and honest with ourselves.
This all sounds great but what does it really mean? I believe that the best connections are those that feel authentic and real, and have a solid foundation of honesty. As a therapist I encourage people to hold onto who they are and speak their truths in relationships, but I also caution people that being honest in a relationship should not become an excuse for criticising others and avoiding looking at our own behaviour. Our first honest conversation should be with ourselves, but we need to watch that we do not use honesty to justify blaming others. If we take a moment and look at our own conduct first, we have a much better chance of finding joy and satisfaction in our life. Once we have looked at our self then we can better pay attention to what is going on around us. It is beneficial to learn from the mistakes of others (and some people are able to learn by observation), but there is no doubt that the most powerful learning of all is from our own experience. It is also the most powerful challenge. How do we preserve our sense of worth and dignity and still learn from our mistakes? How do we preserve another’s dignity in the face of their mistakes? And how can we all learn from each other?
The most important step is to accept that we are all human. We all make mistakes. We all mess up. In fact it is my belief that this is most likely the purpose to life. Mistakes are opportunities, but through these opportunities we grow and learn what we are made of and what we have to contribute. I am not going to pretend that I have always been comfortable with making mistakes, and I have certainly done my fair share of fighting against my humbling moments. Through a lot of trial and error it has become easier, but I still struggle with mixed feelings when I look at the mistakes I continue to make in my life. When I was younger I was terrified of my own mistakes and wanted to cover them up, or distract people from them. I was so busy defending and justifying my mistakes that I missed many learning opportunities. But I had youth on my side, in the sense that life has continued to provide me with more humbling experiences and learning opportunities along the way.
Through the years, and through some truly humbling experiences, I have come to believe that mistakes are ‘The Yellow Brick Road’ to an exceptional life. Our flaws add character, and these imperfections bond us together as humans. When I know that you too have been humbled and are imperfect, I can relax my guard and expose my true self and imperfections as well. This is the magical gift of mistakes, as they lead to an authentic connection with others and our own personal growth.
The 7 steps that lead us from mistakes to wisdom are:
- Be honest with yourself first, and look at your own conduct.
- Pay attention to what is going on around you.
- Accept that you are human and so are others.
- Try to learn the lesson now as it might cost you much more later.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Be kind to others.
- And remember, once you admit your mistakes you are actually admitting that you are wiser and more mature than you were before.