It wasn’t until my doctoral program that I recognized “mistakes had gotten a bad rep.” Growing up, my mistakes were met with correction, laughter, do overs, punishment, reprimand, and performance lower than expected. Consequently, I spent most of my time before my doctoral program focused on “not making a mistake.” Then one teacher and her class, Communicative Interaction, helped me change my perspective.
The teacher had assigned a project. It included making daily observations about our communicative interactions, reviewing them based upon effective communication principles, and then preparing to report our discoveries at the next class. When it was my time to report to the class, I pointed out the numerous mistakes that were made in my conversations. At the conclusion, my teacher engaged me in an interaction that proved to be more meaningful than the discoveries from the project.
Teacher: It appears you don’t like making mistakes.
Me: Absolutely not.
Teacher: Did you know that mistakes are good?
Me: I’ve never found that to be true. They have always cost me. Like in this class. This project is going to have a negative impact on my class grade.
Teacher: Mistakes are one of life’s best teaching tools. Let’s examine the mistakes you identified.
During the examination of my interactions, my teacher helped me to uncover “why” the mistakes occurred, “who” was involved, “what” led to them, “when” and “where” they took place. With increased clarity about the mistakes, my teacher then helped me to identify “how to” prevent making the same mistake again in future conversations.
Teacher: Patricia, don’t focus on the mistake. Rather focus on “learning from it.” Free yourself to welcome mistakes. Look at them as a growth opportunity that would not have otherwise presented itself.
What I had not realized, that moment would become one of my defining moments. My teacher freed me from fear of failure, unleashed a spirit to try new things, and ignited a passion to blaze new paths.
Today, as I transition into a new business phase, charting in unknown territory, I look at each mistake, smile, and think of my teacher with gratitude. I seize the mistake, examine it closely, discover all that I can, recognize that learning and growing is occurring.
Don’t join the chorus in ridiculing yourself or others when a mistake happens. Recognize that you’ve just been given an opportunity to personally grow or help someone else “be their b.e.s.t.”