The most obvious benefit of making a mistake is learning a lesson. Whether what you learn is how not to do something or that you never want to do that again, or a million other possible lessons… you learn and live to make another mistake. Hopefully a different one. Hopefully not a fatal one. Hopefully one which ends up being constructive rather than destructive to you or others.
So, what are the other benefits of mistakes.
Sometimes we discover something about ourselves.
It can be something which we enjoy discovering. Such as facing a fear and finding out that not only is it not as terrifying as we thought it was, but we’re braver than we gave ourselves credit for being.
It can be something we’d rather not know but have discovered anyway. Such as that we are not as smart as we were convinced that we were and we have to eat some humble pie… but it’s not as disgusting as we thought it was because maintaining our smart cookie status was rather stressful.
Case in point – Experts Who Offer Psychology Advice Need to Heed Their Own by David Ropeik – Kudos to him for sharing this, he could have kept it quiet and we’d be none the wiser.
He subtitled the piece – A Scary Tale of Two (Almost) Tornadoes: The Danger of How Easily We Can Get Risk Wrong.
A mistake I made while reading this was to see the word ’Tomatoes’ instead of ‘Tornadoes’ , once I realised my mistake I felt rather sad. The concept of a tomato watch and warning which was so severe that the news interrupted the World Cup final pleased my sense of the ridiculous. Sometimes it’s rather nice when things don’t make sense, and it can be rather fun to make a mistake.
All mistakes need an excuse, so mine is this – I’d only just woken up and the blur of sleep was still clouding my eyesight.
Sometimes we learn something about someone else.
It can be something which is a welcome surprise. Such as the hidden genius of a friend or colleague, who presents you with a brilliant solution to a problem and helps you fix your mistake. Perhaps you didn’t know they had a talent like that because you’d never asked, they’d never mentioned it, and it had never had the opportunity to reveal itself before. Or maybe you are the beneficiary of the extraordinary kindness of strangers.
It can be something which is an unpleasant realisation. Such as finding out that a friend who is always bragging about being so sensitive towards others, disproves their boast the moment being sensitive is actually required. You can replace the word ‘sensitive’ with many other things, the result is still the same, we all know someone (perhaps even ourselves) who talks a loud talk but stumbles when they have to walk the path of their talk. We’ve all had those ‘finding out who your friends are’ experiences and they always come at the most inconvenient times. So we remember them.
Then there are things which fall in the grey area in between the two. We’re horrified to discover something, but afterwards it proves to be useful information. Or we’re elated by a revelation only to regret knowing it later… often because knowing it means we can’t un-know it and it changes everything, which could mean having to start from scratch after years of dedicated hard work.
Sometimes mistakes are big, sometimes small, sometimes their size is indeterminable often due to perception and not necessarily knowing all the consequences of it. Some tiny errors can snowball and the shape of things to come can be hard to distinguish from a distance.
Who would have known that a paperclip would cause a nuclear meltdown – we may say afterwards.
I could have told you that! – claims Hindsight… hindsight is a frigging genius!
A large percentage of the advice which other people hand out like candy to friends and strangers are apres-error mints courtesy of hindsight, of lessons learned from making mistakes.
There’s a lot of advice in this world, to the point where we’re drowning in it because so much of it contradicts and conflicts creating whirlpools of confusion. Sometimes we just have to forget it all and figure things out for ourselves. Make our own mistakes, learn our own lessons, and draw our own conclusions… which often lead to us adding our own drops of advice to the ocean of it which already exists.
To err is human… to make something of our errors is also human. What we make of our errors (and the errors of others, those which affect us and those which don’t but which come to our attention) depends on who we are, and we’re all artists of our own human experience.
Some people make excuses from mistakes, others make opportunities, others make a career out of it, others make a martyr out of them, others make more mistakes, others make inspiration, others make misery, and so on and so forth into infinity and beyond.
To err is human, to forgive… is optional.
Forgive is usually partnered with forget. And while I can see the logic in that… from a certain angle it looks like a mistake.
There are benefits to forgetting mistakes, but there are also benefits to remembering them.
The benefit which springs to mind right now is that being aware that we have made mistakes softens the hard edges of idealism, especially that type of idealism which spawns perfectionism. No one is perfect… yet people keep forgetting it. Remembering that allows for a smoother flow of life and relationships. When we forget our mistakes, we tend to catch that virus known as hypocrite-itis.
How could you do that! we say indignantly while rubbing someone’s nose in their stinky mistake. I would never do something like that!
Of course you may ‘never do something like that’ but you’ve probably done things of the same family as that.
That doesn’t mean you need to stop rubbing that person’s nose in their mistake (although that in and of itself may end up being a mistake – no one likes to have their nose rubbed in their mistakes – so beware… be aware of what you’re doing at all times when you’re being self-righteous. Duck! Boomerangs!), but maybe the smell of it will remind your olfactory memory that your deeds don’t all smell of roses… and that your rose-smelling deeds grow better with fertiliser crafted from your own stinky mistakes.
The other day I ran recklessly through a patch of stinging nettles in flip flops while chasing rebel escapist sheep back into their enclosure (yes, this drama is still ongoing). I returned from my rose-smelling deed for the day in a nettle-sting induced mood. I made my way to the drawer in the kitchen which holds the balm for nettle stings and found the essential balm missing. I felt nettled in more ways than one. Where was my balm, what demon from hell removed it!
Of course I knew which demon from hell had removed it, and knew that the demon was actually an absent-minded angel. I shouted to the heavens for the angel to bring me the missing balm. A few seconds later I was presented with a tube of… callous cream. I was about to strike the angel down with a thunderbolt when humour stayed my hand.
This mistake, and all the mistakes which preceded it (particularly my refusal to learn not to run through nettle patches in flip flops), was offering me an opportunity to nourish myself with some food for thought…
Something which I shall expand upon in another post, this one is too long already. But if you want to pip me to the post, I was considering titling the piece – Applying callous cream to a wound – or something like that. Probably not that… but maybe that.