On the Magic of Mistakes

A tiny manifesto for those of us who fail every day

Every day, I find myself doing things that I wish I hadn’t. I say things which, upon consideration, weren’t wise to say. I give in too quickly to anger. I fail to reach outside of my own head, and ruminate on worries, doubts, and preoccupations. The list goes on.

We all go through this. We all make mistakes, and we make them daily.

It’s tempting to view these mistakes as blemishes that build up on our lives, and keep them from being the perfect lives we desire. It’s tempting to view each mistake as a barrier to being who we want to become. But we can’t be so hard on ourselves. It’s the wrong way to look at things.

It’s entirely up to us what becomes of our mistakes. We can choose whether those mistakes remain negative, or become positive. Any mistake can serve as the basis for betterment. And when it does, that mistake becomes positive — because of what it produced.

When I was 19, I entered into a toxic relationship. It was only my second romantic relationship. I didn’t know any better. Staying in that relationship was a mistake — a big one. For over 5 years, I found myself slowly feeling worse about it — and making more and more mistakes that served to make my life more difficult.

The mistakes I made while in that relationship served to make my circumstances outside of the relationship worse and worse. Eventually, I made a particularly bad mistake that resulted in the end of that relationship — as well as forcing me to relocate, and basically start my life over again.

At the time, I felt hopeless. I felt like my mistakes would forever haunt me as barriers to the perfect life I had been trying to build.

By the grace of so many wise and helpful people I met along the way, I managed to meet while rebuilding, I learned about the magic mistakes. You see, all mistakes have this weird, magical property. Every mistake can turn into a positive thing as time goes on — so long as you sit down, fully address the weight of it, and — with determined effort and sincerity — learn from it.

In that way, mistakes are a complete source of fuel for improvement. Each mistake holds within it the diagnosis of what went wrong, instructions on how to get better, and the emotional fuel needed to work for improvement.

But that fuel is only available to us if we choose to use it. If we choose to regard mistakes as blemishes to hide and disregard, they will continue to get in the way of whatever life we’re trying to build. If we choose to use the magic of mistakes, they will — in virtue of the improvement they fuel — turn positive over time.

There is beauty and grace in the recovery from even the gravest of mistakes. The worse the mistake, the more there is to learn, to display true humility, to build character through making amends to others, to practice determined effort for good.

It may take a while — a lifetime in some cases — to turn really bad mistakes into positive parts of your life, but given enough time and sincere effort, it happens.

In closing, I’ll convey this simple adage:
Each of us are only as good as how we recovered from, made amends for, and learned from our mistakes. So when you make a mistake today, take heart. Here’s your chance to become that much better.

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: https://goo.gl/UhzUYL.

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