Learning from Mistakes – Perspective on Failure

We all make mistakes, they are part of life. One of the ways we can learn from them is to admit that we aren’t perfect are we are capable of making mistakes.

We take away our ability to grow from mistakes when we start distancing ourselves from them; we start blaming others, blaming outside events. The faster we admit to our mistakes the faster we can recover from them and grow and move on.

I think we have a cultural aversion to failure; we work towards success but we expect success on the first try. Maybe this is because we live in an era of instant gratification with all the world’s information at our fingertips in an instant.

From this, I think there’s a stigma around failure. We can try to set ourselves up to avoid failure but how does this really help us when we avoid challenges. I think if we haven’t failed then we haven’t fully explored our abilities or challenged ourselves. We can discover our deeper selves when we make mistakes.

Identifying mistakes

Types of mistakes

I think there are there are different kinds of mistakes that have different types of consequences and learning experiences:

We have thoughtless mistakes; these include tipping over a drink, things that don’t have important consequences. These are mistakes that are just part of life.

There are modest mistakes; you forget to pay a bill on time because you had important events happening or you’re forgetful.

We have detailed mistakes; these mistakes happen due to poor planning. You need to get to the airport by 8 AM but you don’t factor rush hour in your commute and run the change of missing the flight.

Complicated mistakes are more difficult to avoid. These are based on hard decisions we have to make with a limited amount of information and end with negative results. These are some reasons why business fail.

The path forward

Learning from mistakes

Learning from mistakes is a lot easier to do compared to dealing with the feelings associated with failure. To learn from mistakes we must take calculated chances. These are based on thoughtful decisions after evaluation of other options. Taking a chance like this allows us the opportunity to succeed and fail. Should we fail, we should have confidence in ourselves to admit to failing and figure out how and why it happened. If we’ve done that then all that’s left is to make changes. See, that was easy.

When making thoughtless or modest mistakes one of the things we can do is be more attentive to our surroundings. These mistakes are inconveniences at worst and not significant in a larger sense. We probably won’t learn life lessons from these mistakes and best to focus on the bigger stuff.

So let’s move to the bigger mistakes.

Managing modest mistakes

Modest mistakes take time and effort and thoughtful consideration to avoid.

Modest mistakes, they happen. We forget things when we get distracted. Though these mistakes can become habits and do have negative outcomes. Keep forgetting to pay the water bill and you’ll be in the shower when the water is turned off. Forget to pay your credit card bills and you have a drop in your credit score. These mistakes can be avoided if we apply a little more attention and planning ahead. It’s something that will take time to form this positive habit but the consequences of inaction can cause you to pay more for cars or homes or be denied increases of credit for a car or house repairs.

Acknowledging this type of mistake is important. If we can’t see our weaknesses then we can create a cycle perpetuating the same mistakes until it gets really hard to dig out of the consequences. We should always examine our abilities and strive to make corrections when we see gaps or flaws, this as anything worth doing, takes time and discipline.

Managing complicated mistakes

The final type of mistake on my list is a complicated mistake. Resolution to these mistakes will take a lot of effort to understand the causes so we don’t try to blindly fix things that are not helping. Serious thought and evaluation need to be considered because these mistakes can be costly from a financial perspective but also time.

A complicated mistake I made was the decision to go to Pharmacy School. I knew, in some way, it wasn’t right for me but I took the time and effort to make sure my PCAT scores were good enough, to make sure my prerequisites were in order, my interview answers were convincing. Then there’s the financial obligation that carries on for years after.

We aren’t perfect, mistakes are made when we have the best intentions. Yet, we need to try to understand our mistakes. To overcome complicated mistakes will take thoughtful consideration of the events and decisions leading up to the event. Thinking about the events chronologically, thinking about the steps and decisions along the way, can help find where important mistakes were made. Keeping a journal or bullet journal to track your vision, goals, and progress can help in the investigation of complicated mistakes.

As the mistakes become more complicated, appropriate consideration will have to be taken. Possibly even asking for outside assistance or guidance to fix consequences of that mistake. Keeping an open mind is important, doing an honest self-evaluation of actions, decisions points, circumstances, assumptions, time, and evaluation of events is also important to get an accurate view of the events.

This will allow us to break down the events into smaller actions to see if the complicated mistake was the result of combinations of lesser mistakes or one big mistake or any combination of mistakes.

Focus on weakness

When looking at our failures it helps to look at our weaknesses, things we can improve upon so we decrease the chance of failure at our next attempt.

I have a weakness that interferes with and sometimes causes failure, it’s taking on too many activities. If I’m not busy all the time, I feel like I’m missing something. This causes me to lose focus or waste time on things that aren’t important or things that catch my attention for the moment. The important things start to slip and I fall behind on what I’m doing, at it cascades to other activities leading to frustration and becoming demoralized.

One thing I’ve learned is to not take on additional tasks until I’ve completed ones I’ve been working on. I use a bullet journal to keep track of my monthly goals. If I want to read 2 books a month, I assign my books a month before and don’t add other books (though I do allow short stories). I have goals for how many posts I want to do per month and I track them but I’m never too hard on myself if I don’t reach that goal. Pacing myself and finding the actions that are important is a way I focus on this weakness.

Final thoughts

I once defined myself by my failure in Pharmacy School. I felt a range of emotions: shame, regret, anger, embarrassment, and disappointment. Then I started to think of that failure as a challenge, and not make mistakes so personally. The most important thing I learned was that Pharmacy School wasn’t really a part of my personal vision. My goals weren’t aligned with the direction I want my life to grow. I started to question what success really means to me and why I was so dependent on comparing myself to others. Failure can feel like the end of something if we let it or we can let it become the beginning of something greater if we take the opportunity to learn from it.