Mistakes Help You Or Not?

How you look, changes what you see

Version 1

I read Maxwell Maltz book “Psychocybernetics” when I was in high school.  The principle thesis is that how you see yourself influences who you become. Maltz was a plastic surgeon and found that people’s personality often changed when he corrected physical defects. It lead him to a more general statement about how we see ourselves and what it means.

“You make mistakes. Mistakes don’t make you.

A simple way to think about that is we are not perfect and mistakes should not define us. You certainly should not let mistakes define who you think you are.

Version 2

I happened to catch a movie on Netflix recently. “The Last Word” starring Shirley MacLaine. While not a candidate for best movie of the year honours, her character Harriet Lauler is an interesting one. She is the very bright, outspoken, obsessive, former owner of an advertising agency who has decided to have a good obituary. She must change some aspects of her life to date to make that happen.

She hires a writer assistant to create a good one, but the writer finds no one with a good word to say. Their relationship deepens and late in the movie, she gives this advice.

“You don’t make mistakes. Mistakes make you.”

What can we learn from the comparison.

Mistakes don’t make us or mistakes do make us.

First, Maltz is right. Mistakes are not the reality of a personality. We can fail without being failures. His version understates the value of mistakes and sometimes leads to a perfection problem. In Maltz’s view, mistakes are independent of the real person.

Some would say avoiding mistakes is the greatest mistake. And then there is Harriet. 

Harriet’s view is that mistakes make you. Quite the opposite to Maltz it seems. She clarifies her view by adding, mistakes make you stronger, more resilient, more capable, and more aware. Clearly she sees mistakes as hard won experience not to be invalidated. They are independent of the current person and can be used to build a stronger one.

The two views while seeming to be contradictory, are not.

Maltz deals only with personality effects on a perhaps weak person. Harriet assumes a strong personality exists and therefore sees mistakes as valuable learning experiences. Mistakes harm a weak personality and enhance a strong one.

Context matters.

My view has been expressed many times before in these articles. Mistakes are your friend. Make as many of the cheap ones as possible and as early as possible. Learn from each and move on. Help children and employees become exposed to situations where failure is a possible outcome. Help them to understand how the mistake came to be and what aspects of their context and/or experience allowed it. Help them to carry forward the lesson so future encounters of the same kind will have a more positive outcome.

Like Nietzsche says:

“From life’s school of war: what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

If you can afford the adverse result, mistakes are good. It is how you treat them after that matters.

Contradictions usually are not

Contradictions are usually a perception problem.

Viewing point and context are always important. Misunderstanding either can make sound advice seem contradictory. 

Pay attention to the value of your experience. 

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  don@moneyfyi.com  866-285-7772

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