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David Hegg: A few of the lessons that mistakes can teach

Ethically Speaking

Posted: November 12, 2010 10:43 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2010 4:30 a.m.

When I was really young, my father was really smart. But as I entered my junior high years, he seemed to lose most of his brilliance.

In fact, by my first years of high school it was apparent to me that he was completely out of touch with reality, especially concerning what it took to be successful (read “cool”) in the world.

I finished high school, and then college, and as I spent more time with Dad, now as an aspiring adult, I was shocked at how much he had learned about life and love and almost every other subject.

Apparently, I have now finished the same journey of learning in the eyes of my children. One of the greatest joys of life is having my adult children not only come to me, but actually value and put into practice my advice.

And it has sent me back to those days listening to my father as he dispensed equal parts wisdom and love.

My dad taught me, and I’m sure you’ve heard it too: “Learn from your mistakes.” If you think about it, mistakes are probably the greatest learning tool ever invented.

And if you’ve bought into the idea that success demands that we be life-long learners, then you’re in luck because your life and mine will never be short on mistakes. I am, therefore I err.

But, in the aftermath of our mistakes, our failures, what can we learn? What should we learn?

Perhaps the greatest value in failure is that it forces us to recognize and own our personal deficiencies.

We move through life pursuing success and building the facade of ability, and most of the time we can fool both ourselves and those around us.

The longer this occurs, the greater is the build-up of pride and over-confidence.

But unless we really are divine, eventually the pressure of life pushes us beyond our capabilities, and the facade bursts, and our failure descends for all to see.

Maybe it was just a lost football game, or a failed presentation. Or maybe it was an emotional outburst against a family member or colleague.

Worse yet, maybe it was an ethical lapse, or even a series of business mistakes that have now place your employment in jeopardy.

Whatever the situation, large or small, you and I failed. Now the question is: What will we learn?

In the face of failure, nothing is harder nor more healthy than humility.

Imagine the worker whose shoddy performance has brought about the termination of employment. She sits facing her boss and hears the words that will end her time at the company.

She has failed. But at this point, as hard as it is, humility is her best option. If she responds in anger, determined to place all the blame on the company, she will walk out of the door and into her next interview carrying the same workplace deficiencies that led to her demise.

But if she is truly humbled by the fact that she just didn’t do well, she may very well be in a place of gaining profitable insights from others, correcting or eliminating negative attitudes and actions, and becoming a better candidate for long-term employment.

The same thing is true in other areas. Sports teams that achieve greatness do so because they watch the previous game’s film and learn from their mistakes.

Military commanders in the field learn quickly from the mistakes of today in order to save the lives of their troops tomorrow.

Individuals who can honestly admit their culpability have the greatest opportunity to grow stronger and be better positioned for success.

Trial-and-error is a great learning strategy, but only if the error is admitted, owned, studied and corrected.

Those who continually refuse to wrap their arms around their own mistakes, preferring rather to blame everyone else for their failure, can expect the opportunity to do it all over again very soon.

The simple truth most dads know and are eager to pass along is this: If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll most certainly grow in your ability to make them.

That’s what Dad taught me, and eventually I got to the place where he was smart enough to make me believe it.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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