“You dropped the ball on this one. I didn’t think I needed to poke you to get this finished earlier, but it looks as if you were totally surprised that it had to be done.”
That was a private message I got from my head of my department while we were on a team call trying to sort out the mess I had made. As someone who always plans to have everything ready before, this felt like an arrow through the chest.
Through a string of misunderstandings and hesitation, the work I was supposed to have completed at most a day or two ago was left undone, and because of that progress was stalled.
Mistakes were made.
Unpleasant, Yet Necessary
Mistakes are probably one of the most crucial elements to living a great life. There’s no shortage of lessons you can learn from your mistakes or even those made by others.
We often strive to have a string of successes, flawless runs, and want everything to fall into place perfectly. While it sounds ideal on paper, success built without the tempering of mistakes rings hollow.
In my case, the lesson to be learned here was I needed to be more organized in planning my work, and that I should be proactive when it came to clarifying things. I showed me that I still had areas in my professional life that could use some tweaking.
After the call had ended, I got up and went for a shower — my favourite time to reflect upon my day.
My mind was running through all that had happened from the past couple of hours to several days ago when I was first informed about what I needed to do.
I know there was no point in beating myself up over this, but my mistakes weighed heavily on me and I felt like I deserved to feel miserable about it. That I should feel sorry for myself.
Then, while under the warm embrace of water pouring over me, 6 words snapped into existence in my mind. I took a deep breath in and exhaled deeply, finished up my shower, and went right back to fixing up my mistakes with my resolve renewed.
Advice From A God
Kratos, the former God of War from the video game series bearing his namesake, was trailing behind his son, Atreus.
They were stalking a mystical deer with glowing blue antlers, hoping to hunt it down.
Upon reaching a clearing in the icy forest, Atreus, bow and arrow in hand, spots the deer emerge from behind a boulder.
“There it is!” he whispers as his father approaches his location.
“Hold!” Kratos says, hoping his words would restrain his son’s excitement.
But it was to fall on deaf ears. Atreus had drawn back an arrow and shot at the deer — missing it and startling the deer into fleeing further into the frozen woods.
“What are you doing!” Kratos yelled as he snatched Atreus’s bow away.
“Now its guard is up! Only fire…”
Seeing the dejected look on his son’s face, Kratos took a deep breath, regained his composure, and spoke in a more softer but stern tone.
“Only fire when I tell you to fire.”
“I-I’m sorry..” Atreus responded with a crestfallen look.
“Do not be sorry. Be better”
These are words that snapped into mind, spoken in the same deep husky voice of the God of War.
He was right. There was no point feeling sorry for myself now. All I can do is pick myself up and be better. So I did.
Undoing A Lifetime Of Teaching
A lot of us a brought up to see mistakes as bad things, and that we should avoid making mistakes as best as possible.
We are taught that with mistakes comes punishment. That we should feel bad for not getting it right. This teaching is further reinforced by how our society treasures success over failures.
This was especially true for me when I was studying in a Chinese school. Your mistakes and failures were met with caning and extra homework — not with the intention of improving you, but as a signal to the rest of the class that you aren’t good enough.
The most successful people are the ones that see mistakes as part of a wider equation. How many mistakes do you have to make before you uncover the valuable lesson hidden beneath? One? Three? Ten?
If it takes three mistakes before you can learn something, then you’re going to take that into consideration and account for it — you’re building your mistakes to learnings ratio.
Everyday is an opportunity to unlearn how we treat our mistakes. Instead of seeing them as a result or a consequence of our doing, we should mix them into the process as an opportunity to accelerate your understanding of something — after all, there is as much value in learning how not to do something as there is in knowing how.
So the next time you make a mistake, even if it’s a small one, don’t feel sorry for yourself. See it as a chance to learn to be better than you are now.