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April 9, 2015

Past Mistakes, Present Opportunities.

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“Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.” ~ Sophia Loren

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I like it because it’s true.

None of us can say we’ve lived a full life without making a few mistakes. And most of us have made more than we’d like to have made.

As someone who’s made a lot of my own mistakes, I know how embarrassing and frustrating it can be to be reminded of them—especially by people I call “the smugs.” I’m talking about those seemingly perfect people who never seem to make any mistakes of their own and get a certain delight out of pointing out the mistakes of others.

In high school, I was best friends with one. Every time I screwed up, she’d sigh, “There you go again! Will you ever learn?”

It wasn’t until years later when we stopped being friends that I realized she wasn’t truly a friend to me. While it’s important for people we care about to point out things we may be unaware of or unwilling to see, jumping on us and constantly pointing out our mistakes doesn’t benefit anyone, least of all us.

Still, the question remains: How can we learn from our mistakes without being constantly reminded of them?

This is what I’ve found useful: focus on what we’re doing now and don’t dwell on the past.

It sounds simple on the surface, but it’s much easier said than done.

As someone with a history of bad relationships, I have a tendency to approach any new relationship—professional or personal—with the goal of not repeating the mistakes of the past. While this sounds like practical, common sense advice, there’s a real danger that I get so wrapped up in the past I end up either neglecting my present relationship and/or making the very same mistakes I’ve vowed to avoid.  Even worse is when I give up without giving new relationships a chance.

I admit I’ve actually abandoned more than a few promising relationships because I was convinced I was doomed to screw them up. While I thought I was doing the right thing and exemplifying what I meant by learning from past mistakes, in reality, I was not.

One thing I didn’t realize is that learning from past mistakes often means being put in similar or even identical situations to ones that have caught us in the past.

We need to use the lessons we’ve learned in those situations to help us now. So it’s not about avoiding situations where we might make mistakes. That’s next to impossible, since every chance we take means more opportunities to make mistakes. And sometimes, making a mistake isn’t the worst thing. It can help us grow and/or learn an important lesson.

So instead of saying, “I will no longer make mistakes,” my new expression is: “I will learn from my mistakes and hope I don’t repeat them the next time a similar situation arises.”

While it may be a bit wordier than my old mantra, it’s a lot more realistic and hopefully, practical.

 

Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Photo: Flickr

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