Take Ownership of Your Mistakes
Dr. Rick Petronella
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. But it can be really hard for us to own our mistakes sometimes. It can trigger our vulnerabilities, which can be unsettling for some of us, particularly if we prefer to be perceived as strong, in control and as a person upon whom people can rely for good answers and direction. Yet owning up to our imperfections is necessary for real personal growth. It’s important to realize how valuable this is in terms of addressing vulnerabilities. And it’s also a vital catalyst for kick-starting change—the kind of change that can both create and sustain healthy relationships. What happens when we think of our mistakes?
10 Steps to See the Benefit of Taking Ownership
1) Dwelling On our Mistakes Doesn’t Help
It only hurts, creating worry and other states of mind that only undermine your potential to change effectively and sustainably. True, this can be hard. In fact, if you’re like many people who may find themselves being too self-critical of their mistakes or innate flaws over which they have very little control. Instead, admit if you’ve made a mistake and then do your best to move on from it. Give a mistake more power than it deserves and it will turn into a real barrier, hindering your ability to move forward and excel with confidence and skill.
2) Your Lessons Learned Can Become Teaching Moments for Others
Confident people don’t hold back sharing their successes, but they also aren’t afraid to speak up, when appropriate, about mistakes made and lessons learned. Sharing their own stories of struggle can help with our own development without actually telling us what to do. It also teaches a very powerful lesson around self-forgiveness, which is a far healthier motivator than self-shame. When you forgive yourself, you are free to start over, be better, and become creative about how to move forward in life and work.
3) Vulnerability Can Build Greater Respect
Think about it—when you’ve witnessed someone who has freely owned up to a mistake, even if the error was a serious one, you probably had a new and greater level of respect simply because of this person’s candor, honesty, and vulnerability. Hiding mistakes certainly doesn’t win anyone favors. But considering that we all make mistakes at some point in our career, lives taking ownership for our mishaps is always the right thing to do. It sends a message to your people that even if you’ve messed up, you’re going to be brave and own up to it, and, most likely, take corrective action. All of us tend to appreciate these kinds of people (as long as mistakes aren’t being repeated). Being this kind of real, down-to-earth person can go a long way toward earning and keeping a person’s respect.
4) Keeps little problems from turning into big ones.
Related to the point above, if you can own up to a mistake as soon as you make it and do your best to correct it, you can prevent it from turning into a huge problem that may be difficult to solve.
5) Learn from your mistakes.
Simple — you can’t learn from your mistakes if you can’t acknowledge you’ve made them! And if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re destined to repeat them. That’s a recipe for quickly going nowhere in life.
6) Fear of Jeopardizing the respect of others.
We often hide our mistakes from other people because we worry, they will think less of us once they’ve seen that we’ve messed up. But, frankly acknowledging your mistakes, apologizing for them, and then earnestly working to make things right almost always has the opposite effect – people respect you for it. There might still be consequences, of course, but people will appreciate your honesty. If they use your confession as a way to belittle and use you, those are probably not the kind of people you want to work/live with anyway. It’s actually when you hide your mistakes, and they’re found out anyway, that people lose their respect and their trust in you.
7) Strengthens relationships.
Self-justification is a cold, hard relationship killer, as it causes us to build a case of total blame against the other person when things are going poorly between you. Conversely, being able to admit fault, being able to acknowledge one’s role in the current health of the relationship, and having empathy for why your partner might do what she does from time to time without being hopelessly flawed leads to strong, healthy relationships.
8) Owning up to our mistakes allows us to take responsibility for our lives.
If we can’t accurately perceive who we are, how we behave (and how others behave towards us). Our behavior affects others and our own lives, life will always feel like something that’s happening to us, rather than something we are in control of. People with an internal locus of control are achievement-oriented and more likely to find academic and professional success. Instead of seeing themselves as the victim and blaming others for their failures, they learn from their mistakes and use them as stepping stones to becoming stronger and moving ahead.
9) Get over the idea that making mistakes = being stupid.
When a couple of researchers were observing a Japanese classroom back in the 70s, they were astounded to see a student very calmly work through a problem on the chalkboard, in front of his peers, for 45 minutes. They were amazed to realize that they felt more uncomfortable for him than he felt himself!
10) We need to learn to see mistakes not as personal failings to be denied or justified, but as inevitable aspects of life that help us grow, and grow up.
A prominent idea in the West, especially in America, is that abilities, like intelligence, are largely innate. The Japanese, on the other hand, see intelligence as a function of effort. Thus, when Americans make mistakes, they see it as a failure of who they are, while the Japanese view mistakes as simply part of the learning process.
The more you see success, not as a function of inherent traits, but of effort and work, the less threatening making mistakes becomes.
“Confess our sins to one another that we might be healed.” James 5:16
How’s Your Integrity? QUIZ
For some, integrity simply means telling the truth, but it goes deeper than that. Integrity has more to do with living the truth than merely telling it. Since integrity is intimately linked with each of our own unique set of core values, we alone are the best judges to determine how well we are adhering to our internal moral code. Take the Self-Quiz below to see how well you do.
- I take responsibility for my actions even when I expect the results may be personally unpleasant or uncomfortable.
- I don’t make excuses for my actions. When I have made a mistake, I face up to it with confidence.
- I make a point to tell the truth, even when it would be just as easy to say nothing.
- I speak my mind even when I know I may not be accepted, understood or well-liked.
- I am straightforward and respectful in my communication and never resort to being passive-aggressive.
- When I realize I have acted without integrity, I do not rationalize my behavior and move on. I own up to my actions internally, and also with the people I may have affected, despite any potentially negative consequences to me.
- I deal with unpleasant situations up front and have no unresolved issues (bills, taxes, relationships, etc.) that are at loose ends and without closure.
- When I compromise in life, I never feel like I go too far and sell out my values.
- I don’t lose sleep over, become obsessed with, or avoid issues altogether; I face them head on.
- When I try to sell someone something (an idea, a service, my choice of movie), I do not avoid eye contact, blush, stammer or hesitate.
- When I notice other people’s errors, I don’t feel the need to quickly point them out.
- I don’t feel separate, alone or isolated from others.
Our integrity is most often tested when our ego senses that something is at stake for us: a pay raise, a promotion, a good friendship, dating, pride, etc. If you answered “yes” to six or fewer of these questions, it may be time to ask yourself what you are afraid of losing.