Owning Up to your Mistakes

You’ve erred. You have three choices:

A. Deny it. Try to show that you were not wrong.

B. Hide out and hope the situation goes away.

C. Admit your mistake, express honest regret, and say what you’ve learned.


A. Deny it. Try to show that you were not wrong.

How important is it to be right? For the mainstream culture, spin has become an acceptable form of communication. Denials of wrongdoing by skirting the issue, justifying, sounding offended, self-important, or throwing doubt on the questioner or accuser is normal.  This does not only occur in political spheres or in the tabloids; it has become all-too frequent and nearly expected to deflect responsibility.  The opportunity costs of being right and/or appearing infallible remain unexamined.

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B. Hide out and hope the situation goes away. 

Those less powerful experience a less forgiving environment in which their mistakes confirm others’ suspicion of their unworthiness. For people with less power, legato demerits seem the prevailing pattern. Whatever has gone wrong remains a lingering aura of untrustworthiness, deservedly or not. Individuals having fewer resources live closer to the emotional bone. They often report feeling vulnerable. As a result, the preservation of safety means that self-defense requires a low-profile and shrinking from any threat to their standing.

C. Admit your mistake, express honest regret, and say what you’ve learned.

A better course of action is to admit a change of view, a change of heart, and express a new path for the future. The error you admit does not commit you to being wrong forever. Nor should you fear that your credibility is ruined. Ideally, you should not be thinking of yourself at all. You should be speaking to those affected by your mistake.

Explaining your view, expressing your regret (and meaning what you say!), while sharing what you have learned can serve as a building block for you and others. People welcome honesty, humility, and the resolve to do better in the future. Allowing yourself to be open to criticism, including your own, is perfectly rational, normal, and to be expected. It is vital to remember that when you have erred and expressed your confirmed desire to do differently, you must be patient with others as they catch up to your new convictions.

Regardless of which group you are in, your feelings about mistakes you make speak volumes. They reveal how confident you are, how devoted to learning you are, and how much you respect you show to others. For many people, being incorrect risks ridicule, bullying, social ostracism. An expensive experience! Those individuals, fearing “the worst,” may fight to the death for being right.

Mistakes offer a way of learning what we need to learn. Each mistake we make is an expression of something we are working out. It can feel like a private or public white flag that we are finally admitting to someone. The message is, “I want help” or “I want to go a different speed,” or . . .

Whatever the need, mistakes constitute bridge work between the desire to do well and the rehearsal for it. Mistakes are what make concert violinists, aquatic wonders, star gymnasts, and master teachers. Virtuosos express freely their past failures as early performers, only to explain that “getting it right” is the work of a more learned time, a practiced space, and a set of results worthy of the dream.

Rather than reject what is not right the first time, we can recognize the seeds of greatness, entertain our dream, and make the vision real as we raise performance to the level we learn to realize is our own.

© 2016 Work Transformed