Understanding Your Experience – Learning from Your Mistakes

In the world of the Magic School Bus, the vibrant class teacher Miss Frizzle proclaimed before every field trip: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” In the world of Hyde School (and beyond), this isn’t bad advice. In fact, this is good advice. Life isn’t a formula and neither is the road to success – though there are some certain ways one can help themselves along that path – so mistakes are inevitable.

Though the word “mistake” often has negative meaning attached to it, it does deserve a more positive spin. Mistakes are mistakes, yes – but they’re also opportunities for growth, learning, and development. Here are but a few ways that taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy are fundamental to your overall education.

Admitting your mistakes teaches accountability.

In the realm of character education, one of the most important things a young person can learn is accountability. Especially when a person is used to achieving at high levels (in sport, in volunteerism, in academics, in music, to name a few), it’s easy to get caught up in your own achievements. But just like you may feel responsible for your A+ paper or game-winning throw, you must also take ownership of your errors.

At Hyde, we emphasize principles of character (courage, integrity, leadership, curiosity, and concern). An important component to all of those principles (especially integrity and leadership) is an understanding that every person is responsible for their actions and every action has a consequence (whether it is good or bad). It is easy to accept responsibility for something done right but much harder to admit you’ve done wrong. Accepting the responsibility of your mistakes is just as important as taking pride in your successes. Mistakes are inevitable – but demonstrating accountability and moral maturity is a choice.

Entrepreneur Richard Sudek talks about the ways we can learn from failure.

Mistakes show us what we value.

The consequences of your mistakes help illuminate what we value. In the wake of a mistake, you may be surprised to find yourself caring about something more than you ever thought you did – and thus, the mistake has granted you clarity about the things that truly matter to you.

For instance, you may be faced with a choice where both options are unknown to you (i.e. “Should I go into college right after I graduate or should I take a year to travel abroad?”). Though you’ve thought out the pros and cons of both extensively, you haven’t had enough experience with either to make an informed decision on what will be right for you. If you make the choice to enter college and find yourself wishing that you had travelled, you will know that you value adventure. If you choose to travel and find yourself to be homesick and wishing for a clear direction, you will know that you value stability.

Though you may feel like you “made a mistake,” you come out of the experience with an enriched understanding of who you are, what you want, and what you value, which can inform your decision-making the next time around.

Mistakes remind us of our human nature.

One of the reasons the word “mistake” has such a negative connotation attached to it is because people associate it with other words that last far longer than one mistake does – words like “flawed” and “weak.” But making a mistake and dealing with the consequences is a humbling, humanizing experience.

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Source: Flickr. Success and failure can be part of the same thing if you choose to learn from your mistakes.

Everyone, in one capacity or another, fears failure – and absolutely everyone experiences failure. It’s a part of the human experience that’s as natural as the hair that grows on your head. When you’re under a lot of pressure, it’s easy to tell yourself that nothing but perfection will be good enough. Athletes want to play the perfect game. Musicians want to perfectly play their song. Academics want to score 100%. But you, nor anyone before you, was a superhero. You shouldn’t expect yourself to be the sole exception; rather, become comfortable with the fact that you cannot be perfect and situate yourself so mistakes can be best used for growth.

A mistake can remind you that it’s okay to make an error or miscalculation every now and then, and that even if you make a lot of them, you’re still worthy of being loved and feeling confident and doing well in the things you aspire to do well in. Making mistakes is all part of the learning curve that leads to success and excellence. Even the pros strike out sometimes.

Mistakes can lead to serendipitous achievements.

Though focusing in on a goal is important, there is value in having broad horizons and an open mind while you work (or, in other words, it’s important to stop and smell the flowers). Some of the most important inventions and discoveries of our time were made because mistakes were made and folks seized that mistake as an opportunity. Here are a few famous examples of how error became excellence:

  • Sir Alexander Fleming made the mistake of being sloppy in his lab before leaving for vacation. When he returned, the sloppiness that led to mould in his staphylococcus cultures – thereby discovering penicillin.
  • John Walker made the mistake of scratching at residue left on his chemical mixing stick, which burst into flames. This resulted in the invention of the match.
  • Wilson Greatbatch made the mistake of installing the wrong resistor to a device used to record heart sounds. This mistake led to the invention of the pacemaker.

Mistakes don’t always seem like opportunities for growth or carriers for an important life lesson. More often than not, they usually feel like… well, mistakes. Errors. Incorrectness. However, a person that acknowledges mistakes as chances to develop is a person that transforms a mistake into maturation. One must acknowledge that they made the mistake, take responsibility for it, use innovation and sincerity to correct the mistake, and move forward with the new life experience. Mistakes are a vital component to the learning process, so don’t beat yourself up over it!