There are many ways the saying goes, but they all have very similar meanings. It is — “You learn more from your mistakes, than your successes.” I probably first heard the expression in some form from a coach. Whether it was jumping too quickly off the starting block in a swimming meet and being disqualified, or misjudging a fly ball, or throwing an interception. Mistakes are common in sports. We measure and keep track of individual or team’s mistakes. We have names for them such as turnovers, unforced errors, or unearned runs. I spent a lot of my youth going over in practice or the film room the mistakes I made in the previous games, trying to learn from them and to avoid committing the same mistake twice. I never played a mistake free football game, but throughout the season we strove to “get better” and to make fewer mistakes. A good football team learns throughout a season until their mistakes are fewer and less severe in nature.
Life is no different when it comes to making mistakes. That’s why I am always amazed at the politicians who when asked what mistakes they made throughout their latest term usually reply with some version of “none.” They are afraid that admitting a mistake will make them vulnerable to criticism and their opponents. If their statement was true, and it is never true, they are saying they learned nothing from their term in office. There is no improvement left in their performance. They have peaked out. We would all be more prone to like and vote for someone who admitted he made a few mistakes, was learning from them, and would not repeat the same mistake twice. We are similarly reluctant to admit mistakes to our parents, spouses, children, or colleagues. But like the politician, we aren’t being realistic when we deny our vulnerability to error. If we believe we are mistake free, we are shutting out the best source we have for improvement and growth.
Just about everyone’s favorite story about Jesus is the one about “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” story. The “water into wine” story runs a close second, for a large group as well. The reason the throwing stones story is so well liked is although not many of us commit the same sins as Mary, we have all been in her place. We have made mistakes and face a “stoning” in some form, but a stoning nonetheless. Yet, if we pause and reflect we realize our mistakes can be the way we learn, and the way we become closer to God. When we approach God with our mistakes he may “bend our ear” or “chew on us for a while,” but after that he puts his arm around us and puts us right back in the game. Hoping we have learned from our mistake, but also realizing we will never be perfect, but we will continue to learn and improve.
This is another posting of yours that has moved me deeply. I agree with your interpretation of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan’s writing on the subject. While I do think there is value available from people who have studied life issues (e.g. psychiatrists, social workers, etc.), I have always found that neutral, compassionate “street” perspectives from those who have experienced the issues carries more weight. That thought may offend some, but I think that the most effective of the professionals are those who help guide people to their own solutions.
I have also come to question whether there really are any coincidences in life. I don’t believe in “pre-destination,” but I do believe that we get a lot of divine guidance in this life experience. I also believe that each of us was brought into this life with a life purpose that is unique to each individual. Which brings me to my good friend, Webb Hubbell.
Webb, you might have been an all-pro football player, but injury altered your path. You might have been the next Clarence Darrow or perhaps a Supreme Court Justice, but again, circumstances altered your path and gave you a sabbatical to ponder. Then you faced the medical challenges that continued to reshape your path.
Look at where all of this has led! I can’t help wondering if your life purpose has something to do with service to others who need guidance from “one who has been there.” You are an amazingly talented person with deep compassion, strongly held spiritual perspectives, deep capacity to love, and a willingness to be in service to others. While the path that you were guided to had some bumps, I know in my heart that you are where you are intended to be doing what you were intended to do, and we are all benefitting.
Tom and Webb,
You both continue to inspire me and challenge me to be a better person. Thank you!
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross