We don’t talk about our mistakes with others

We usually feel embarrassed or ashamed by mistakes, so we try to keep them to ourselves. It’s normal to want to present our best selves and we avoid sharing when we did something wrong if it is not necessary, needed or helpful.

As a side note, I am not saying you should not acknowledge and own up to your mistakes, that is something you should always do. I am saying that we rarely discuss our mistakes with folks who are not impacted by them or who would benefit from knowing about it, for example, to avoid future similar mistakes.

Another caveat is that I know and appreciate when we offer this information voluntarily even if not needed when we are looking for advice or to be comforted, or if we want to be vulnerable and connect with someone.

But, generally speaking, you will hear much more about others’ successes than their mistakes and failures. This means it will bias your perception of how often others make mistakes and you might think you are the only one who is not easily going from one accomplishment to the next without stumbling somewhere along the path.

Everyone makes mistakes

The truth is everyone makes mistakes. Even people who are older and more experienced. Folks who have done a task multiple times can still get distracted and forget about one of the steps. Even after years of practice, you can not see something which you should have picked up on.

It is remarkable to witness someone who you consider “better” than you (whatever that may mean in the specific context) making a mistake because you realise that truly, everyone makes mistakes

How do you react when you make a mistake

Something which is interesting to observe when someone else makes a mistake is how they react. For example:

  • Do they apologise
  • Do they own it and fix it
  • Are they blaming others or finding excuses
  • Do they think about how to prevent this mistake (or a similar one) in the future
  • Do they sound worried/embarassed/ashamed
  • if you are not impacted but a simple “witness”, do they apologise to you?

If you think they handled it well, compare their reaction to yours

This is really useful, because we are learning from the mistakes of others!

Think what you would have done in their shoes. How would you have behaved?

See if you notice a pattern in your reaction. Do you tend to find excuses or blame others or are you good at taking responsibility? Do you apologize and move on by fixing the error, or do you keep thinking back to it?

The last two questions in particular made me reflect a lot. I noticed I will apologize even if not needed, which is something I will work on. I know that if the mistake has some impact, I will often feel embarrassed, while at least from my perception, this does not seem to be the case for others, many times.

Learning from the mistakes of others also means implementing strategies to make sure you avoid the same mistakes they did. This is extremely important and a big reason why we should talk and discuss about our mistakes openly, but it is not the core of this post.

What you should do

  • Understand that everyone makes mistakes, don’t think it’s only you
  • Expect you will make mistakes. This will help you get more comfortable and at the same time help you acknowledge the potential pitfalls
  • Think about when it’s easier for you to make mistakes and accept that. The best way to move on is to make sure you learn from your mistakes and always adjustments to minimize the risk of similar mishaps in the future
  • Be kind to yourself, understand why you did a mistake without judging yourself too harshly or making broad statements about yourself rooted in shame