Living With – Not By – Our Mistakes

This post was originally run in June 2011.

Flying in Spite of Everything mixed media painting by Liz Kalloch

One of my favourite songs that’s come out in the last few years is called Someday by Mike Errico. One of the lines goes:

… past the smiles that crack like frozen lakes,
under children’s figure skates
well I am going
past all of my own mistakes,
a thousand more I’ve yet to make,
but I am going,
I am going.

His song is about getting where he wants to go, now matter how long it takes, no matter what stands in his way, no matter what anyone has to say about where he’s going or what he’s doing and no matter how many mistakes he makes along his way. He obviously knows himself well, and knows that he will make mistakes along the way, but off he goes, for he knows he’s going to get there, he just knows it.

The paths that we traverse on our way to where we are going are fraught with potential mistakes, and yet, the majority of us hope to never make a mistake. Realistic? I’m pretty sure we all know it’s not.

The question that we all might ask ourselves is this: if we are on a path to where we want to go (and often we know not exactly where this path will lead us), how is it possible that we won’t make a mis-step, won’t falter and decide incorrectly, or won’t make a colossal error in judgement. We don’t.

Perhaps the better question is: Once you’ve made a mistake, how do you move on and learn from the experience?

Truth be told, I hate making mistakes, I am relentlessly hard on myself when I make a mistake, and yet, when I look back, many (if not all) of my mistakes have taught me an important lesson that has helped me to better define my path, better illustrate for myself the twists and turns in my road, and to better understand myself and my ultimate goals for my life as an artist, a writer and an entrepreneur.

So here was my question to a few friends and colleagues:

How we recover, deal and move on from any mistake can end up being a huge benefit to us and sometimes what results from a mistake can end up leading us to some of our best work, our best ideas and a better understanding about ourselves and our work. Can you talk about a mistake you made in your work/business/life that led you to something new, something better or something surprising?

A favorite adage of mine is that you can never gain truth by avoiding error and although I wish it were otherwise, some of my best bits of wisdom come on the heels of disastrous failure.

I once got a job I thought was my dream job. In fact, I shouted from every rooftop, to everyone who would listen—“oh my god!  I just landed my dream job!”

Oh, the irony.  That position turned out to be, hands-down, the worst job I ever had in my life— it was the first time in my life I had ever experienced anxiety and after 10 months I had gained 8 pounds.  However, it will always stand as a true learning experience for me.  One, the work environment could only be described as an “emergency room”—every day a new emergency cropped up and despite my best efforts, I could never bring consistency or predictability to the job.  What I learned:  (if I am to follow with the medical analogy here) I am an internist.  I like calm, focused one-on-one connections and specific, linear structure to my day.  I loathe chaos and thrive within a well-grounded structure.  And, no matter how lovely or kind a boss may be—if she is impulsive, thoughtless and reactive—we will not work well together.  On a more pragmatic level—I gained skills that serve me today.  In that job, I learned how to contact artists and book events—today, I run a small enterprise where I must regularly contact artists and plan four-day workshops.

So, it may not have been my dream job, but it was a significant and important misstep on my path—one that I can’t possibly regret since it led me further along my true path.


Elizabeth MacCrellish is the founder and director of Squam Art Workshops.

* * * * * * *

My company had committed to employing an intern from France for two months of the summer. I admit it: I hired the specific intern because he was so cute.  By the time he’d been with me for about two weeks I realized I’d made a big mistake. Then, this incredibly handsome 6 foot something walked in late, yet again, because he’d missed his bus. His navy blazer was hanging off his hand and he asked if I had a needle and thread.  As I nodded yes he handed me the button which had come off, along with the jacket.  Yes, I saw red and the rest of the summer went very s-l-o-w-l-y.  But, I did learn from it. After a summer with the glorious Gregoire I never again hired someone because he was cute or she seemed sweet.  Never. Ever.

Carolyn André is a strategic marketing consultant

* * * * * * *

Mistakes are so scary, aren’t they? When I make one it feels like I have wiped out all the good that I’ve done in life, in business, in my creative work. But I’m learning that mistakes are so necessary in putting me in the moment and forcing me to truly look at what I’m doing, what is important, what is not important. And they really challenge me to dig deep to tap into the very best of who I am and what I can do as I try to turn around whatever “mistake” that has been made or to accept and deal with the consequences, if I can’t change the outcome.
Mostly I’m finding this to be true in my artwork. Some mistakes lead me to creative places I would never have gotten to on my own. And it surprises me every time that happens. I’ve blogged about this in a couple of posts here and here.

Sandy Coleman is an artist and jewelery designer.

* * * * * * *

Every single story I have to share about my mistakes ends the exact same way:  “I didn’t follow in my intuition.”

But I can also share that any mistake that led to a monumental disappointment always inspired the following in me ~ to believe that the loss I was experiencing must mean there was something better on the horizon. Even when I didn’t really believe it, I put my trust in it anyway, and it has always turned out to be true.

Every single time.

Christine Mason Miller is an artist, writer and explorer.

* * * * * * *

When I was creating the Sparkles e-course, I made a decision that felt wrong as soon as I hit “send.” (Ever have that moment?) I was worried sick about it, so much so that I couldn’t sleep. In the wee hours, what finally shifted my attitude and let me sleep was telling myself, “Hey, if this is a huge mistake, at least it would be a great story for Chris Guillebeau’s “Small Business Disaster Series!” That made me laugh and also reminded me that I was not alone. There will be mistakes on the journey. The funny thing is I wrote to Chris to share my experience and he invited me to be a part of his Emperor Spotlight series! What a delight. You never know where mistakes are going to take you!

From coaching to workshops, from podcasting to blogging, Jamie Ridler helps women find the confidence and courage to discover and express their creative selves so they can be the star they are.

* * * * * * *

We all make mistakes, it’s just a fact, and however much we wish we didn’t, sometimes a mistake (if we can let ourselves get past it) brings us unexpected gifts. I know for me that some of my biggest growth spurts and best learning curves have been the result of dealing with and coming to an understanding with a mistake.

So how do you deal with mistakes you’ve made?

What unexpected gifts have come to you through a mis-step or an unfortunate decision? How have you gained a deeper understanding and respect for yourself and for others as you navigate a course through cleaning up and moving on from a mistake?

3 thoughts on “Living With – Not By – Our Mistakes

  1. I enjoyed reading these entries. It’s a great question and it’s happened to all of us who have taken risks. Making mistakes and errors in judgement teach us important lessons. We don’t grow by being safe and comfortable. Being kind to yourself and accepting that you learned something valuable from the experience, I believe is the key to moving forward. We are always on the path no matter what mistakes we’ve made or paths we choose. We are becoming wiser, clearer and more aware in the process. That’s not such a bad thing, is it? :)

  2. Making mistakes is inevitable, learning from them is essential to growth, perspective and creativity.
    Good reading.

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