Let It Go

You’ve made mistakes.

That’s okay; it’s inevitable. You’re going to make a bunch more. My father once gave me some great advice: “You can’t avoid making mistakes; just try not to make the same one twice.” In other words, learn from it and move on.

I’ve written before about trying to maximize the benefit you get from failing, but today I want to talk about the other side of that coin – minimizing the harm. Mistakes by their very nature do some damage – damage to your plan, or your day, or your project, or something else.

But here’s the good news: they don’t do nearly as much damage as you think they do.

Sure, there are times where single mistakes can be fatal. If you’re a heart surgeon, for instance. Or maybe a fighter pilot. But 99% of the time, your mistakes are pretty small and low-impact in the grand scheme of things. What often does the most damage is the way we cling to those mistakes. Ask yourself honestly, have you ever done one or more of the following things:

  1. Have you ever apologized for a mistake more than once, to the same person?
  2. Have you spent more time beating yourself up about the mistake than you spent making it?
  3. Have you spent more time feeling guilty about the mistake than it would have taken you to start over?
  4. Have you lowered your own view of yourself for a single mistake?
  5. Have you abandoned a task, project, etc. because you made a mistake early on in the process?
  6. Have you hidden even successful accomplishments because of mistakes you made along the way?

Chances are good you’ve done at least one of those. Maybe more than one. I know I have. All six, in fact.

Don’t. Own the mistake; take responsibility for it and for fixing it. If you need to apologize, do so – sincerely, including your plan for fixing it. But once you’ve done that, don’t apologize for it again, and don’t tolerate being made to feel guilty by anyone – including yourself. Accept the changes that need to happen in order to improve, and then act. Make all steps positive ones, away from failure and towards success.

Don’t dwell. The mistake isn’t nearly as damaging as these behaviors. Don’t quit or beat yourself up for inevitable, normal things that happen to 100% of all humans.

Ty Cobb had the greatest career batting average in Major League Baseball history. He had a career average of .366. That means he hit the ball a little over one third of the time. In other words, he succeeded a little over a third of the time, and didn’t succeed almost twice as much.

Missing the ball might be a mistake, but making twice as many hitting mistakes as successful hits didn’t stop Ty Cobb from being a legend. You’ve got a lot of room for error in your life – don’t waste any of that time dwelling on mistakes that don’t matter in the long run. Just let it go.

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