Mistakes are a part of life and we have all made at least one. Some of us make more mistakes than others, but it is how we handle our mistakes that matters. Some people try very hard to take few risks and make few mistakes, while others make decisions less cautiously and hope to learn from their mistakes. There are small mistakes that don’t matter much and have very little effect, but the ones we really dread are the ones that can change everything with a wider, more negative impact. I am talking about the kind of mistakes that can ruin your carefully-built reputation, squash your dreams, damage good relationships/marriages, destroy a thriving business, end a career, get a student expelled or haunt your conscience. I do not think that anyone ever sets out to make such an enormous error, so it is important to learn how to deal with mistakes of any magnitude when they happen.
1. Accept you were wrong – Sometimes this can be the most difficult part, especially for people who are usually right. We can lie to everyone else and defend our actions all day, but we cannot lie to our conscience. It is best to admit, at least to ourselves, that what we did or said was wrong. This becomes even harder when professional license, reputation or law is involved, so it is important to seek legal advice, if required. This is still not an excuse for lying to ourselves though. Recognising and accepting that we got it wrong is a big step towards making things right, and finding peace.
2. Analyse your actions – No one likes people who apologise all the time and keep repeating the same mistakes. It is important to review what happened and why it happened, even if it is just a reflection in your mind, so that you can see where things went wrong and hopefully prevent a recurrence. Whether it is shouting at your child pointlessly because you were excessively tired, having an affair because you were living away from your spouse, or prescribing the wrong drug because of inadequate training, it is good to try and understand why you did or said what you did, so that you can make changes for the better. Reflection also helps us to feel less bad about ourselves, when we realise that we are not just wicked or incompetent people that make foolish decisions all the time. When reflecting, we should also think about how our mistakes have affected others, and to what extent.
3. Do the right thing – Making amends is never easy. It usually starts with a sincere apology to those affected by our poor choices, hurtful words or wrong decisions. If you are the most affected by your own mistake, you will still need to forgive yourself and do what it takes to make things better, for example if a mistake has led to losing your job or future opportunities. Most successful people have stories of catastrophic errors in their past that could have ended their dreams, but somehow ended up contributing to their exciting success story. Apologies are not just words. If there is something that can be done as restitution, we should try and do it to appease those who have been hurt and to help us move on from the guilt. We are not responsible for other people’s choices, so asking for forgiveness does not guarantee we will get it, and that is fine. What matters most is that we have done the right things after realising our mistake, accepted the consequences and refuse to be blackmailed because of it. Finally, we have to move on from our mistakes and not let them define us, no matter how big or small they are. The aim is to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.