It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

I was scheduled to fly to Dublin, Ireland a few weeks ago for a speaking engagement and when I got to the airport I realized I’d forgotten my passport at home.  I felt mortified and embarrassed – and then angry when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get on my flight.  After a few hours of stress and drama, I was able to get myself on another flight, which would get me to Ireland on time for my event – although it did cost me quite a bit of money and forced my wife Michelle to have to drop what she was doing and rush to the airport with my passport.

In the big scheme of things in life, it wasn’t a huge deal.  However, it really upset me and caused me to reflect on how I react to mistakes – mine and other people’s.  What I realized is that I don’t give myself or those close to me much permission to make mistakes.  While mistakes aren’t a huge issue in my life, I actually spend and waste a lot of time worrying about making mistakes, and also find myself being unnecessarily critical of those around me when they make mistakes (both overtly and covertly).

Michelle’s kind, accommodating, and empathetic response to my mistake (which ended up having a negative impact on her as well) was a great model and reminder for how I want to be when someone around me makes a mistake – helpful, loving, and compassionate.  It also reminded me that having love and compassion for myself when I make a mistake, instead of judgment and criticism, is a much healthier and more positive way to deal with mistakes.

How about you?  How do you relate to yourself and others when mistakes are made?  While it often depends on the nature of the mistake (some are bigger than others, of course), many of us tend to be hyper-critical with ourselves and those around us when it comes to errors.  And the stress, criticism, and negativity we associate with mistakes can actually cause unnecessary harm, fear, and anguish – in essence, making a difficult situation even worse.

What if we had more freedom to make mistakes and gave the people around us permission to mess things up as well?  It’s not that we’d start rooting for or expecting things to go wrong, we’d simply have more compassion and understanding when they did (which at some level is inevitable in life and business).

By giving ourselves and others permission to make mistakes, we actually create an environment within our own being and within our key relationships and teams, that is conducive to trust, connection, risk-taking, forgiveness, creativity, and genuine success.

While it can seem a little risky, and even counter-intuitive, allowing more freedom for mistakes to be made, ironically creates the conditions for less errors to occur, and more fun and productivity to take place.

Here are a few things to think about and focus on to expand your capacity for mistakes in a positive way:

  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – As my friend and mentor Richard Carlson taught us in his bestselling book of the late 1990’s, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – and it’s all small stuff.”  The vast majority of mistakes we make in life really aren’t all that big of a deal.  The bigger issue when it comes to mistakes is either our fear of making them or our reaction to them once they have been made (by us or other people).  As we lighten up and practice letting things go, we find that most things we stress or worry about are really small things.  Living life with this awareness, allows us to have more peace and a lot less stress.
  • Forgive – When a mistake is made, especially a big one, forgiveness is an essential aspect of moving through it.  Most of the time there is no malicious intent by the person who made the mistake (us or others).  Sadly, we tend to spend and waste a lot of time and energy either with blame or resentment, instead of focusing our attention in a more productive, positive, and healthy direction – forgiveness.  It is often most difficult, but most important, for us to forgive ourselves when we make a mistake.  However, if we can remember that most of the time we’re doing the best we can (as are others), we can hopefully get off our own backs and allow ourselves to be human (which means we aren’t perfect, nor is anyone else).
  • Look For the Lesson – There are often tons of lessons for us to learn when a mistake is made.  While it’s not always the easiest or most enjoyable way to learn a lesson, it’s often quite effective as it gets our attention.  One of my friends posted on Facebook in response to my passport incident from a few weeks ago and said, “Well, look on the bright side, I bet this will be the one and only time you ever do this in your life – you won’t forget how it feels.”  She is probably right and most of the time when we make a mistake, even a really big one, we gain a great deal of knowledge, experience, and insight that is invaluable.

Mike Robbins

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