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My daughter came to me today distraught from a harmless mistake she had made.
At the end of the day she had forgotten to count the laptops in the high school class she teaches, and now one was missing. She said, “Mom, why am I always so terrified of making a mistake?”
At that point, I had to take a hard look at myself and realize the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. I was raised to do everything in my power to never make a mistake and now, unconsciously I must have projected that onto my daughter. Trying to console her, we started to examine why we are not the only people that fear making mistakes, and see if we could find ways to see mistakes in a new light. We decided to try to take a new approach.
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. – Henry Ford
It’s common knowledge that we learn far more from our mistakes than from playing it safe. After all, what are we giving up in the process when we “stay safe”? At the time, a mistake may seem like the end of the world, but when we look back we can witness just how they have helped us grow and mature. Mistakes are necessary to achieve success. Just think about Edison’s 10,000 attempts to create a light bulb. His many mistakes were just trial-and-error guideposts to his final triumph.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas A. Edison
If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. – Ken Robinson
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill
I remember middle school and a teacher that would humiliate students if they answered a question wrong. He would also scold us if we asked questions he thought were unnecessary. Pretty soon no one asked or answered any questions at all! I don’t remember learning anything in his class except to keep my mouth shut.
Luckily, when I got to high school I had a very forward-thinking teacher. She encouraged all questions and never berated anyone for a wrong answer to one of hers. That classroom was filled with energy and the excitement of learning. I was never afraid to question or make a mistake. I grew and learned so much from her class, as we all did, and many of us returned to visit her years later.
An MRI study published in the journal Nature Communications discovered that making a mistake could actually make you feel good, if your brain was given a chance to learn from it. Study author Jason S. Moser, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University said, “Making mistakes allows us the opportunity to pay more attention and incorporate new information that will likely improve our learning and performance.”
We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. – Samuel Smiles
Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. – Denis Waitley
The Baha’i teachings say that if, after a mistake, we prayerfully consider our actions, ask for guidance and then act on that guidance, the mistake can turn into a positive. When our motives are pure, even if we do make a mistake, in the end a spiritual outlook and a positive attitude can turn that error into something good:
He will forgive thy sins and transform them into goodly deeds. Verily He is the Forgiving, the Compassionate, the Lord of immeasurable grace. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 164.
It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right. – From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325.
We all look back and have regrets, but we are not meant to dwell on our mistakes and berate ourselves. Instead, we’re meant to move confidently forward and resolve to do better next time:
Be thou not unhappy; the tempest of sorrow shall pass; regret will not last; disappointment will vanish; the fire of the love of God will become enkindled, and the thorns and briars of sadness and despondency will be consumed! Be thou happy; rest thou assured upon the favors of Baha, so that uncertainty and hesitation may become non-existent and the invisible outpourings descend upon the arena of being! – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 557.
In the end, the computer was found and all was well. My daughter learned a valuable lesson and so did I. We decided that, for the most part, people are only concerned about their own mistakes. The people we love the most are authentic, non-judgmental, approachable, and certainly not perfect!
We resolved to try not to obsess about making mistakes, but instead find a balance. I’m not suggesting that we are oblivious to our mistakes or, heaven forbid, callused if we have hurt another soul. A certain amount of regret, reflection and contemplation may be necessary in order to remember and reassure that the mistake doesn’t keep happening—but when we start with pure intentions, errors can be turned into positive outcomes and spiritual growth. So don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You might just learn something!