You are not your mistakes

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By: Anja Uitdehaag 

To make mistakes is human; to stumble is commonplace; to be able to laugh at yourself is maturity – William Arthur Ward

Making no mistakes is, of course, impossible.

There are some very interesting gender differences in how men and women view mistakes. In “How Men Think”, Adrienne Mendell notes the different reactions of men and women regarding their mistakes. Women, in general, have a more difficult time when they make mistakes. She says this is because women are socialized to feel differently about mistakes. Boys are raised to be respected by their team if they learn from what they did wrong. Mistakes provide an opportunity to do better the next time.

But for girls, it is different. When girls make mistakes, they are consoled. This reinforces the idea that they should feel badly about the mistakes.

Mendell compared two partners in an architectural firm who made a mistake on a contract. The woman was devastated and wanted to give up for the rest of the day. The male partner was not ready to give in. He believed that even though the problem was severe, it could be solved. He worked through the night, resolved the issue and they got the contract.

The bottom line, according to Mendell, is that women not only focus on mistakes, but often draw greater attention to them than is necessary. Men are more inclined to forget them and move on or fix them.

I used to beat myself up over my mistakes. Nobody could be as stupid as I was … How could I have done such a thing … What was I thinking? Sometimes I revisited these mistakes and wondered what could’ve been if I’d just chosen something else. I’d imagine how my life would’ve changed. Of course I am aware that this is a compete waste of time. The past is done. “What I could’ve done if only..” doesn’t matter because it’s already done.

We all make mistakes in every facet of life, work included. It is easy to let these setbacks define us but it is also critical to learn from them. Often we tend to focus on what is not right instead of figuring out how to make things right.

Making mistakes is OK. Don’t get discouraged; don’t get frustrated; don’t dwell on the negatives. Step back from your emotions and see the situation from an external perspective – through logic and reason.

Take your time to learn from every mistake, every failed result and every unsatisfactory outcome. The more you learn, the more you will grow and the better you will be able to deal with the obstacles that lie ahead on your path.

A couple of learning suggestions:

  • Invest in self-belief and confidence: You are unlikely to overcome a mistake or obstacle if you don’t believe you are capable of overcoming it. Your doubts will paralyze you and focus you on problems and not the solutions you need to get the outcomes you want. You must therefore develop the necessary confidence that will help you to think far more effectively:
  • Read inspirational books about how others facing adversity overcame it;
  • Think about all the things you worry about. Jot them down in words or pictures. Once you finished “mapping” your worries, start thinking about solutions or ways to ease your concerns. Brainstorm ideas with others;
  • Develop a “Deal with it and move on” attitude towards errors, mistakes and failures. Anything could always have been done better. Research says that successful general managers have made more mistakes in their careers than the people they were promoted over. They got promoted because they had the guts to lead, not because they were always right.
  • Accept that mistakes will happen.  You are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later this collection of mistakes, called experience, leads us to success.  The actions you take to move past failure and reach success will define you in the end.

How do you deal with mistakes? Do you stop and dwell on them or attempt to fix them if possible and move on if not possible?

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