Wisdom and Learning from Mistakes


  Wisdom and Learning from Mistakes

No one is perfect, and that includes the best of us. Sometimes even the most capable and intelligent among us can make mistakes. But it’s not enough to just accept these mistakes as inevitable: we also need to learn from them, fix the problems, and take steps to prevent them from happening again in the future.

The first step is recognizing when a mistake has happened. This can be difficult because of the many different types of mistakes that are possible. Here are some of the most common:

• Inaccurate Calculations – These might be due to a failure to think through all the inputs and outputs required, or using faulty data in one part of a calculation.

• Premature Conclusions – Sometimes, an initial conclusion or assessment is made without collecting all the information needed. This is especially problematic when it leads us to quickly abandon efforts in one direction and work on something else instead.

• Bad Decisions – Sometimes decisions are made on faulty premises or inadequate information, with bad consequences that could have been avoided with better decision-making.

• Poor Judgement – These are errors in judgment, where we make a decision or take an action that seems like a good idea at the time but turns out to be wrong.

• Forgetfulness – Sometimes we are just absent-minded. But sometimes we fail to do things because we don’t see the benefit to ourselves of doing them. Sometimes, as a result, another person has to shoulder more of the work load than they should need to.

• Lack of Attention to Detail – Sometimes we can get so involved in the big picture that we overlook details. We may miss the importance of a small aspect or turn a blind eye to it altogether.

• Abuse of Authority – This might be abusing our power for our own benefit or failing to treat people fairly because they are beneath us.

• Overconfidence – Just because you have the power doesn’t mean you always know what is right and wise. Just because you have the right education doesn’t mean you always know what is best. Too often, overconfidence leads to actions based on gut instinct or personal bias rather than real insight.

• Lack of Communication – The failure here is failing to communicate clearly. This might be because we didn’t take the time to make sure our message is clear. It might be because we are talking without listening, or because we are so focused on our own thoughts and feelings that we aren’t paying attention to how they come across to others.

• Misuse of Resources – Sometimes it feels like a resource doesn’t really belong to us, so we don’t feel like we have to be careful with it. Or maybe we don’t take the time to ensure that a resource is being used well, or that it’s being useful in the right way.

• Refusal to Admit Mistakes – Sometimes we make mistakes, but instead of admitting it and learning from them we pretend they never happened.

• Not Following Through – If you decide on a course of action, you need to follow through on it. It’s too easy to say you will do something, and then not do it. Or if something happens that makes you reconsider your original decision-making process, but instead of re-evaluating your decision or choice, you simply ignore the information and double down on your original decision.

These types of mistakes are often made by intelligent, competent and capable people. And often we don’t even realize that we are making them until we’ve already done so. This is where the second step of learning from mistakes comes into play: being aware of our own mistakes. But the awareness needs to be followed up with something else: an evaluation of the mistake, and a determination to learn from it so that it doesn’t continue to happen or ever happen again.

The third step is to fix the problem. Sometimes, we can’t undo the mistake. But in some cases, we can turn things around to make it right again. Here are some examples:

• If you made a decision based on inadequate information, you may be able to look at this information again, check your assumptions, and if necessary, reverse course and take a new approach that is better informed. Maybe you didn’t find out what you really needed to know before making the decision. You may have gotten bad advice or listened to someone who just wanted to promote a certain way of doing things for their own reasons rather than because it was best for everyone involved.

• If you made a bad decision, you can make new decisions and take new actions that turn things around. You may have been impulsive and acted too quickly. You may have leapt to conclusions before you really had the information needed to make a good decision. You may have made assumptions that were wrong. The world changes, so perhaps the original situation no longer exists or is not as relevant as it once was?

• Sometimes, we misuse resources like money or physical objects or buildings – we abuse them, waste them, or don’t care for them properly and they suffer damage as a result. If we’ve misused something that belongs to others (e.g. a government office building, a public park, a store’s cash register) we need to fix the damage.

• Sometimes, we don’t talk enough with others – through personal relationships or working together as part of a group or team. This can lead to misunderstandings and bad decisions that perhaps could have been avoided if only we had communicated better.

In other cases as well, there is no easy fix in the example above. If you made a decision simply because you were angry at someone for something they did (or not done) you may have acted rashly and overreacted to their actions (or lack of action). While you may not be able go back and undo a decision that was made under those circumstances, you can learn from it and improve your relationship with the person involved.

• Sometimes, something has gone wrong because you didn’t live up to your part of the deal (e.g. when you agreed to do something for someone else but didn’t keep your word). The best solution is to figure out what the other person expects of you and then make sure that happens – if it does not, then the problem lies with them for failing to live up to their end of the deal (although there may be things beyond our control about how they approach their relationships with us).


Making mistakes and learning from them is a key part of human life. We make them when we are children, when we first start out in our careers (and continue to make them throughout our lives), as parents, and as members of society. It is these experiences that give us the knowledge and wisdom needed to make better decisions in the future.

The way you learn from your own mistakes (or those of others) depends on what kind of learning style you have.

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