On making mistakes

Decisions – a fork in the road

Many so-called ‘self-help gurus’ will tell you that making mistakes is part of life. You have to make a mistake in order to learn. In fact I recall a business investor who invested in startups saying that he was wary of investing in someone who hadn’t had a business already. If they had a successful business then why did they need his money? And if they had never had a business that failed then they were too naive to understand the complexities involved. He said they should go out and attempt to run a startup on their own before coming to him for money.

The only people who have never made mistakes are those who have never attempted anything new.

However, although many people say this, there are very few who really believe it. If you look at your mistakes with regret than you are approaching the problem wrongly. Regret is where you want to learn by your mistakes without making them. You make mistakes, you learn – it’s part of life.

The approach I take is this. If you go to college you will be filled with a lot of ‘facts’, which are really just currently accepted information. They will condition you into a certain way of thinking and they will probably charge you a fairly substantial sum of money for it. If you live an adventurous life – and by that I don’t mean necessarily climbing mountains or bungee jumping, I mean stepping outside your comfort zone – you will make mistakes which may cost you money or time. What is that money or time compared with the money or time you would have spent had you gone to college?

For instance, someone gives you advice to invest in a certain share. You do and it bombs and you lose money. There’s a lesson that cost you money. What is the lesson? It could be:

  • Don’t invest in shares
  • Don’t listen to that person’s advice when it comes to investing
  • Listen to advice from a number of sources before investing
  • Accept that even with the best advice things can go wrong
  • Realise that attachment to money is the real problem
  • Or many more insights.

The experience costs you money and if you don’t learn by it then it’s money down the drain. If you do, then you have paid for an invaluable life lesson that you could never get at college.

Every experience has a lesson. Every time you make a mistake, look at its cost and what you can learn. You say something inappropriate and now someone isn’t talking to you. There’s a lesson there. Not just in keeping your mouth shut sometimes, but also how to deal with the fallout. It may be an insight into the other person that they are more sensitive or less forgiving than you thought them to be. Maybe you think you lost a friend and in that sense the lesson was more expensive that you were prepared to pay? Or it may be that you discovered something about that friend that would have come out eventually anyway.

Of course better than learning from our own mistakes is to learn from the mistakes, and successes, of others. It’s ironic that in order to do that we have to shut off our left brain critical thinking and move to our right brain observer. So long as we criticising we are just comparing the other person with what we would do. In order to truly understand we need to observe in an objective way. That’s the difference between left-brained college learning and right-brained real world learning.

Phil Braham 27 June 2021

• don’t take that person’s advice



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