It’s a simple fact of life that we all make mistakes. It’s a natural part of life and being a human being. Mistakes happen—big or small. No-one is exempt.
Golfing legend Arnold Palmer once told how he was in a golf tournament and as he walked up to the green to make an easy shot, he saw one of his old friends. He took a moment to go over and shake his hand, and then walked onto the green to make the easy putt. He missed. Because he had allowed himself to be distracted. He lost his focus and made a mistake. But it wasn’t the end of his golfing career.
Why do we beat ourselves up because of mistakes? I know people who feel their life is forever damaged because of a mistake they made years ago. And they live in regret. But one of the greatest statements we can make to another person is this that has six words: I admit I made a mistake. It takes courage and a lot of grace to say something like that, but it has tremendous power. I think many situations in life can be managed and restored by admitting, I made a mistake. I think it’s wise to learn from the mistakes of others—after all, you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. (That’s a tongue-in-cheek statement by the way.)
Be willing to learn from your mistakes. There was a postcard which says, I have learnt so much from my mistakes that I am going to make another one. Well, yes. But not just one more mistake, lots more! There are worse things than mistakes. If you are not making mistakes you are perhaps not stretching yourself fully. Of course you can’t plan your mistakes. But you can’t plan on the basis that you or someone else won’t make mistakes either. You will and they will. That’s life. But we can only learn from our mistakes if we take responsibility for them.
John C. Maxwell says: “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” Somebody else said: “Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.” Here are three reasons why you should admit your mistakes:
- You’ll be better off. When you own up to your mistake, you can learn from it, put it behind you, and then move on. Telling the truth about your error will show others that you’re mature and professional, and they’ll view you as trustworthy. Taking responsibility for your actions is better than beating yourself up, or trying to cover up a mistake.
- You can fix the mistake. If you make a mistake and admit it, you can create a plan with the help from others to figure out how you can correct it. Someone else may have made a similar error in the past and be able to guide you through a solution. Even though you made a mistake, admitting it and seeking counsel on how to correct it will show that you’re willing to do what it takes to ensure the same mistake won’t happen again.
- Avoiding conflict only makes things worse. When you avoid conflict, lie about a mistake, or blame it on someone else, it can come back 10 times worse. Chances are, someone will find out what happened, and then you’ll have to face the consequences of escalating what may have been a small issue in addition to making the mistake itself to begin with. Consequences for covering up a mistake could be as harsh as getting fired, depending on the severity of the situation. After making a mistake, your first impulse may be to forget it in hopes that it’ll go away. But the right choice is to admit your error, learn from your mistake, and take steps to change your process, behaviour, or attitude.
(Read Admitting We Make Mistakes – Part 2)
Copyright 2010, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
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