The Importance of Mistakes

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Don’t let remorse trap you in a non-life.

My daughter came home fired up from a company training session. She thought the concept that mistakes would no longer be referred to as mistakes was brilliant. In that progressive industry errors in judgment were labeled opportunities. I remember at the time thinking, Why not call a spade a spade? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.

I was wrong.

At the time I labored under clouds of guilt because of my own mistakes. My definition agreed with the Cambridge Dictionary: an action, decision, or judgment that produces an unwanted or unintentional result. I’d accumulated a significant number of those unwanted results and anything that smelled like avoidance of responsibility for my errors in judgment annoyed me.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how things like that can hang around to haunt you? In fact, that word, opportunity, wouldn’t let go. One day it hovered in my consciousness bugging me until I finally checked the definition.

Opportunity: A favorable juncture of circumstances.

I ran through a few mental equations:

If mistake = opportunity

And opportunity = a favorable juncture of circumstances

Then mistake = a favorable juncture of circumstances


The answer is yes and no. It’s what we believe about our mistakes that either imprisons us in guilt and shame or catalyzes our personal evolution. If we try to avoid the pain of our misjudgments or wallow in the messy consequences of them, we limit our ability to progress into a deeper relationship with our own life.

But what if we saw every mistake as a favorable juncture of circumstances? The possibilities of that blew my mind! What a viewpoint shift, right? That change in perspective would empower us to forge ahead, to look for opportunities for self-discovery and growth in the midst of the fallout of an error in judgment.

Sometimes our mistakes hurt others.

That fact cannot be remedied or undone for anyone else. What’s left for us, personally, are the stories we tell ourselves — our response to whatever repercussions have been generated. We can be destroyed, damaged for life, or we can move forward toward healing. There are lessons we would never learn without those events. Often the greatest opportunities for growth are brought about by our most grievous mistakes. Revelations come as we allow the pain, admit culpability for the part we played in the debacle, and move through it into greater awareness of our weaknesses and tendencies.

It can be terrifying to take a close look at the past and risk being flooded with unresolved grief. But until we do, we’re more handicapped than someone on crutches. We’ll never be able to fully express who we are when a portion of the self is kept hidden.

Changing how we perceive mistakes isn’t as simple as telling ourselves that the hairy monster living in our psyche is a wonderful growth opportunity. Depending upon the degree of trauma and fear, we have to find a level of safety that makes it possible to begin our mental shift.

There are several approaches.

1) Therapy is one of them. I personally found the expertise of a Somatic Experiencing therapist incredibly helpful in dealing with my guilt, shame, and self-blame. But everyone is different — find what works for you.

2) Telling a trusted friend or family member — with extra emphasis on trusted — who will listen without judgment to what happened, what you fear, how you want to move forward can be first a step toward liberation.

3) Write it. I cannot emphasize enough the insights to be gained by writing the whole story as you remember it. Memory is tricky. As you describe what happened you may find yourself asking, “Was that really how it was?” As you write, ask why questions. Why did I do this? Why did I think that? Why did I say what I did? Keep asking those questions until you get to the real answers which may not be the story you’ve always told yourself.

Then let it go?

Maybe not. The truth is, we can’t. Trauma remains embedded in cell memory. But how we choose to think about those life challenges has the potential to change everything. What we can let go is our attachment to shame, guilt, and self-blame. When we do, relief is enormous and liberating. The best parts of self are free to come out to play. And the depth of soul we can summon to meet others in their own dark places multiplies exponentially.

Before I understood the importance of my mistakes
After I explored the opportunities surrounding my errors in judgment

Can I be happy when I’m not?

It’s easy to be brave when nothing frightens me.

It’s easy to be strong when nothing stronger attacks.

It’s easy to have compassion from a distance.

It’s easy to let go when I don’t really want it anyway.

It’s easy to be happy when life gives me what I want.

But I don’t get spiritual growth points for that! There’s no gain without loss, no enlightenment without accepting and overcoming difficult challenges.

Three weeks ago everything changed. A door fell on my foot. It wasn’t just any door. This door was a very old, very dense Bali door of teakwood that came crashing down in the dark. A goose-egg the size of a softball ballooned, splitting the skin across the delicate arch and it throbbed like a drum being beaten from the inside. Neighbors heard the crash and rushed to my aid but other than an ice pack there was little to be done.

I took two ibuprofen and, since it was night anyway, hobbled to bed.


I’ve always been healthy. I’ve had the kind of body that cooperates no matter what I throw it’s way. It’s a balanced body, strong, hardy, and willing. It likes physicality and too much sedentary downtime is not okay. So as I was saying…

P1070050Day One.

I wake up and try to walk on the bulbous left foot, but it’s more of a limp-hop that deteriorates fast when all the blood in my body rushes to the wound with it’s fiendish pounding. I decide that this will be a writing day with my foot elevated on a stack of cushy pillows.

Day Two.

I tentatively swing my feet out of bed and plant them on the floor. The left one seems to rest on a squishy bubble. I try to walk and the throbbing hop-dance commences. But today is writers’ group and I am determined to go. There’s a length of fabric from a sarong tie that is about the right size so I wrap my foot and try a normal walk. Yes. With the support of the makeshift bandage it’s do-able.

The foot is still happier elevated so I take a seat at the end of the table and make it through the meeting in fine form. Afterwards, a friend invites me to see his new villa, “It’s only 500 meters,” he says.  I struggle with the metric system. Is a meter like a foot? A yard? And if it’s 500 yards, how far is that? We start out and after 10 steps I’m in trouble. But my strong, hardy, willing body won’t say no.

When I get home I go straight to bed with ice packs and my foot propped up far enough so the hammering blood drains away from the wound. “I probably overdid it a little.” It’s my last thought before going comatose.

Day Three.

Okay, let’s just say I do a stupid repeat of day two. I take my foot shopping, walking on concrete floors for hours. What was I thinking? The throbbing that night is intense and I notice a hot redness forming around the split flesh. I take two ibuprofen, slather the open slit with triple antibiotic cream and go to bed with the ice pack hoping I’ll fall asleep before it melts.

Day Four.

My Balinese friends begin to hover, frown, and offer various oils, ointments, and the juice of roasted frangipani stems to apply to my compromised foot. They notice the melted ice pack. “No ice,” they tell me. “Only heat.” They want to know if I’ve seen a doctor. “No, it’s not broken,” I say, after all, I can walk, can’t I? But the inflamed area bothers me. I’ve brought a prescription of antibiotic tablets from the U.S. and decide to take them.

Day Five.

I experience a change in my nervous system. The realization that I am going to have to slow down to a near dead stop and allow this foot to rest if I want it to heal drops into my consciousness. NOOOO! screams my strong, hardy, and willing body. In that instant I know that it’s going to be a battle. My usual practice of denying pain and pushing through isn’t going to work this time. A surge of panic starts at the base of my spine and ripples upward, fluttering around my heart and lodging in my throat. I scramble to the internet and enlist Google. After reading dozens of descriptions I self-diagnose. I’m quite certain that I have sustained a stable Lisfranc injury.

Naming the thing brings a certain peace. But as I read down to the treatment and recovery time a fresh wave of resistance rattles me. It can take up to six weeks of elevation and minimal use of the foot to fully recover.

A touch of insanity seeps around the edges and creeps into my flailing mind. Six weeks! The still functioning logical part of my brain takes a step back. “Oh, you don’t like that at all, do you?” she taunts. “You love to tell everyone else to listen to their body, and look at you! Here’s your chance and you’re behaving like a spoiled brat.” Self-talk can be brutal. But I have to admit that she, I, am right. I grab my notebook. I need to process and writing is the quickest way for me to get to my truth. The first word that appears is OPPORTUNITY.

With that word my perspective shifts. This time of enforced quietude, inactivity, and introspection is an opportunity rich with possibility, I write.

The power of suggestion, when written down, is readily internalized and becomes as solid as fact. When I put those words on paper I know that the time will not be wasted or lost, that it will just be different. Giving honor to my foot, working with it’s healing instead of against it, brings me back into harmony with myself. Accepting the constraints as a gift, an opportunity to explore my own mental and emotional discomfort which are far greater than the actual, physical pain of the injury, provides a rich environment to expand my awareness.

Day Twenty-one.

Today marks the half-way point, three of the six weeks are behind me. The foot is still swollen, the gash is still oozing, but the knob has receded and there’s no infection. It’s healing. But the real progress is in my mind. I’m not fighting it any more. In fact, I’ve grown to quite love the endless hours of confinement. When all of that Type A, produce-or-die energy is stripped away, I become a docile, contented, lazy-ass, slug…pretty much.




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