I stand by all the misstatements that I have made
May 3, 2012 4 Comments
gaffe, noun \ˈgaf\
1: a social or diplomatic blunder
2: a noticeable mistake
This week, I survived Word War One. The battle stemmed from a single word: prudence… and escalated into an argumentum ad nauseum. I was not about to back down from the conflict, but my better nature prevailed on me, thus I waved the white flag, leaving me to fight another day. Was I amiss in the battle of semantics? Let’s leave that for another day.
For many reasons, admitting one’s mistakes is difficult. An implied value in many cultures is that our work represents us — if we fail a test, then we are a failure. If we make a mistake then we are a mistake. However, we can only learn from a mistake after we admit to making one. As soon as we start blaming other people (or the universe itself), we distance our self from any possible lesson. But if we courageously stand up and honestly say “This is my mistake and I am responsible”, the possibilities for learning will move towards us. Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to one’s self, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding. Wise people admit their mistakes easily. They know progress accelerates when they do.
In my 40 years of committing one gaffe after another, I have learned to categorize mistakes as such:
- Stupid: Absurdly dumb things that just happen. Stubbing your toe, spilling coffee on your keyboard or poking yourself in the eye with the pencil you are holding.
- Simple: Mistakes that are avoidable but your sequence of decisions made it inevitable. Having the power go out in the middle of your party because you forgot to pay the bill, or running out of beer at said party because you didn’t anticipate the number of guests.
- Involved: Mistakes that are understood but require an effort to prevent. Regularly arriving late for work or a scheduled trip, eating fast food for lunch every day or going bankrupt at your start-up company because of your complete ignorance of basic accounting.
- Complex: Mistakes that have complicated causes and no obvious way to avoid next time. Examples include making tough decisions that have bad results, relationships that fail, or other unpleasant or unsatisfying outcomes to important things.
I’m leaving all philosophical questions about mistakes up to you. One person’s pleasure is another person’s mistake: decide for yourself. Maybe you enjoy shooting your neighbor’s cat with a BB gun, who knows. We all do things we know are bad in the long-term, but are oh-so-good in the short-term. So regardless of where you stand, I’m with you. However mistakes are defined in your personal philosophy, make sure you learn from them.
Remember, the kind of mistakes you make define you. The more interesting the mistakes, the more interesting the life. If your biggest mistake in life is not wearing matching shoes and belt or buying the wrong energy drink, you’re not challenging yourself enough to earn more interesting mistakes. Oooops… I’m not encouraging you to err just for the fun of it. What I am driving at is that you should not fear making mistakes (provided you’re smart enough to learn from them). And since there isn’t much to learn from simple and stupid mistakes, most people try to minimize their frequency and how much time we spend recovering from them. Their time is better spent learning from bigger mistakes. But if we habitually or compulsively make stupid mistakes, then what we really have is an involved mistake.
As what then President George ‘Dubya’ Bush once quipped in one of his more famous (or notorious) gaffes: I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future. The future will be better tomorrow.
So, don’t just stand there. Go out. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. I assure you, you’d come out wiser. As for me, I believe that the peace I am enjoying right now is just a momentary cessation of a word war.