You hear it often in conversation. People are talking, relating the story of the latest disaster. Somewhere within it, you’ll hear this phrase, “Well, we all make mistakes.”
And that would be true, but not all mistakes weigh the same. For example, adultery is not a mistake. It’s a sin. It’s a breach of trust. It is something that you did that’s contrary to everything you’re supposed to be. It is like throwing a nuclear bomb into your marriage. Addressing adultery as a mistake is crude and shows that you have no idea of the new normal you have just created.
Putting your GPS up in your window, typing in your destination, following it to the letter, you can wind up almost driving into a river; that’s a mistake. Investing in something you thought would go up, buying a house you thought would appreciate but didn’t; that’s a mistake.
So mistakes come in two kinds: mistakes of competence, and mistakes of character. Competency mistakes do help us if we indeed learn from them. I’ve learned how to ride a motorcycle by making mistakes. I’ve learned how to be a cyclist by making mistakes. The day I bought my cycle the salesman said, “You do know there are only two kinds of cyclists.” I said, “No, what are they?.” He said, “Those who have fallen, and those who will.”
I thought about that and for a moment and dared I would be the exception to the rule, but I wasn’t. I didn’t have the competency to ride a road bike with its thin tires, multiple gears, and most importantly, pedals in which your feet are semi-permanently fastened. I have fallen. I have fallen more than once. It hurts. Most of all, it’s embarrassing because there is no graceful way to fall. But guess what, I don’t fall near as often a I used to, because I am getting used to the bike, to my weight, and how to balance it, how to anticipate and respond to certain situations. I am falling less. My mistakes not only are painful enough that I don’t want to repeat them, but have given me valuable feedback and information in order to make course corrections.
Mistakes of character are about 50/50. About 50% never learn from them and never recover from them. The other 50% learn and recover, but is a long, expensive, and painful process.
So ask yourself when you are about ready to do something in which you might fail. Will I fail because of character? That’s unacceptable because you are doing something that goes against your belief system, your values. Stop, turn around, and go back home. Can I make the mistake because I lack the information or the skill, but it’s worth doing anyway because the pay-off is off the charts? Then by all means, don’t be afraid to make a mistake of competency. You can learn from your mistakes and get smarter and try again at a better place.