Henry Ford said, “The only real mistake is the one from which you learn nothing.” He meant that mistakes aren’t intrinsically bad by themselves; they are only a problem when they do not lead to new knowledge or greater insight. Mr. Ford was right, of course. No mistake or failing is without benefit if we allow it to teach us a better way of doing things. This is why it’s good to face mistakes head on, and to study them until you glean all of their benefits.
But what happens when you study the mistake for too long? What does it do to you to perennially review past mistakes, and never let them go?
I’ve lived this cycle in my life, both by personal choice and by the influence of others around me. Mr. Ford’s sound advice became the foundation for an unsound practice of repeatedly dredging up old mistakes under the guise of “learning from them.” The act seemed good, perhaps even wise. Studying the finite details of the mistake meant that it never happened again. That’s a good thing, right?
Yes. . .and no. While the initial lessons learned from the issue(s) were worthwhile, my continued fixation on them failed to propel me forward in the way that I’d hoped. In fact, they were starting to hold me back. I found myself consulting my past mistakes before making decisions about my future. “I messed this up once; better not do that again,” became my mantra. My past had grown into a looming presence that overshadowed my future, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Luckily for me, a very wise friend offered this advice:
Build monuments to your victories, not your mistakes.
By constantly returning to my mistakes, I had built them up into a monumental presence in my life -- my very own Lincoln Memorial made of gaffs and shortcomings. My mistakes loomed large on their bronzed perches, commanding my attention like fearsome idols. My victories, on the other hand, languished in back closets, rarely seeing the light of day. Rather backward, don’t you think?
The better way is to build monuments to victories, and use mistakes as torches to light your way to new knowledge and better methods. Use your creativity and courage to light that mistake on fire, and let it burn until you’ve found your way again. When it inevitably burns up, throw it away. That’s right. Cast the mistake aside once you’re back in the light of understanding. You don’t need a torch anymore. What you need now is a monument to your victory over failure; you need a worthy homage to what you did right, not a gloomy idol to how you messed up. So burn up your mistakes and build up your victories. It’s what Mr. Ford would have wanted.
Sarah is the co-founder of Bright Ideas, a designer by trade, and an artist by passionate choice. She was born and raised in South, and delights in sharing Southern culture with anyone who cares to learn. Sarah collects creative hobbies; when she isn’t making art, you can usually find her on the dance floor. Follow her creative adventures on Instagram and Twitter!