Learning opportunities come to us in many ways. Close to the top of the list of powerful learning opportunities comes with making mistakes. Indeed, it is often through our failures that we learn both the techniques needed for success and the effort that will be required. A marriage and family therapist may provide just the life coaching needed to help turn failures into possibilities.
The newly appointed president of the bank was young at 32 years of age. Daunted by the challenges of the position he sat down with a former president of the bank who was now elderly and a man of few words.
“What is the most important thing for me to do as a new president,” he asked the older man.
“Right decisions,” was his terse reply.
“Thank you, sir. That is very helpful,” the young banker replied. “But how do I make right decisions?”
The wise old man replied: “Experience.”
Somewhat exasperated the young president said, “This is why I came to see you! How do I get the experience to help me make right decisions?”
“Wrong decisions,” was the gentleman’s reply.
Maturity does not necessarily come with age; but, it rarely occurs without it. Most of living our lives is done spontaneously, often with little or no training or education.*
Much of what we do know has come from our experience. For example, for child rearing we find that how we were raised has a significant impact upon how we raise our children. Most of us can point to things we appreciated in the people who raised us that we hope to duplicate. On the other hand, we can also point to wrong actions we wish to avoid in our childrearing because of the painful example of our caregivers.
Outside of those experiences, we may pick up a book or two on parenting, compare notes about childrearing issues with friends and co-workers, or attend a workshop or two. The fact is that most of what we learn would be best characterized by familiar expressions such as ‘flying by the seat of your pants,’ ‘trail and error,’ ‘hunt and peck,’ and ‘going with your gut.’ You do the best you can under the circumstances and while we often make good choices and right decisions, the ones that we tend to remember the most vividly are the mistakes, the wrong decisions. We remember them, often, because they did not produce the desired result. At other times we remember them because the results of our choices had bad results that we never wish to see happen again.
In wartime and other extreme circumstances the mistakes can have injurious or even fatal consequences. A brother volunteers for a scouting mission in France at the end of World War II because another soldier–a friend–had backed down at the last minute out of fear. The volunteer was killed by a land mine during that mission while his soldier friend lived with the guilt of his choice for the rest of his life. Thankfully, most of our mistakes do not have those kinds of extreme consequences.
In the day-to-day fabric of life we make good choices and we make bad choices. Indeed, it is the bad choices that help us learn to make good choices more often. The bummer is that it takes time and suffering through the consequences to help us learn most effectively for future choices. We also have to weigh again and again our experience against our best judgement and acquired information to address new situations that the manuals didn’t mention, the seminar speaker didn’t address and our friends and co-workers had no clue about how to help.
You are on your own.
You make a decision.
You take action.
You learn from the consequences.
You are now better informed and prepared for the next decision with no guarantees; just a better probability that you will make a better choice next time.
Mistakes are terrible things to waste. Learn from them!
*Ben Patterson, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, 1990.