Attributed to: Thomas J. Watson (1874-1956) founder of IBM.
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Series: The ABC’s of Professionalism
“Abraham Lincoln became America’s greatest Precedent. Lincoln’s mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, ‘In onion there is strength.’ Abraham Lincoln write the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also signed the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposedly insane actor. This ruined Booth’s career.”
— From a compilation of student bloopers and mistakes, attributed to Richard Lederer. (Source: http://www.innocentenglish.com)
Now that you’ve hopefully had a good laugh, let’s get serious about “mistakes.” Human beings are deeply flawed in two respects. First, we make countless mistakes every day. No surprise, right? The curious part is why we harbor fears about making more. Fear of imperfection is the second and far greater flaw.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” — Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915)
“To avoid situations in which you might make mistakes may be the biggest mistake of all.” — Peter McWilliams, Life 101
“If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.” — Frank Wilczek (1951- )
We fear mistakes because it reveals that we are imperfect. But, everyone already knows that. So why do we think that makes us look bad?
“While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” — Henry C. Link
“I have learned the novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not to be afraid of making mistakes, or of appearing naive.” — Abraham Maslow, Psychologist
“Assert your right to make a few mistakes. If people can’t accept your imperfections, that’s their fault.” — Dr. David M. Burns
Mistakes should be welcomed and valued because they are opportunities to learn and improve.
“Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on?” — Peter McWilliams, Life 101
“An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats failures simply as practice shots.” — Charles Franklin Kettering, inventor
What we learn from our mistakes they will guide us and nudge us along the path toward success.
“If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.” — Tallulah Bankhead (1903-1968 )
“If I had my life to live over… I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.” — Nadine Stair
“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t as all. You can be discouraged by failure – or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember, that’s where you will find success.” — Thomas J. Watson
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” — George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
“It’s a sad day when you find out that it’s not accident or time or fortune, but just yourself that kept things from you.” — Lillian Hellman (1905-1984)
If we are wise and able to suppress our arrogance, it is also possible to learn from the mistakes of others.
“You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself.” — Sam Levenson (1911-1980)
To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes, the wise and the good learn wisdom for the future.” — Plutarch, Historian
Still, one’s own mistakes handled professionally are the best-learned lessons.
“Don’t argue for other people’s weaknesses. Don’t argue for your own. When you make a mistake, admit it, correct it, and learn from it immediately.” — Stephen R. Covey, Author and Speaker
“It’s always helpful to learn from your mistakes because then your mistakes seem worthwhile.” — Garry Marshall, ‘Wake Me When It’s Funny’
There are proper and improper responses to mistakes.
“Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else’s can shorten it.” — Cullen Hightower
“When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” — Paul “Bear” Bryant, “I Ain’t Never Been Nothing but a Winner”
History has proven there’s an undeniable connection between mistakes and innovation.
“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” — James Joyce (1882-1941)
“He who never made a mistake never made a discovery.” — Samuel Smiles
“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” — Steve Jobs
Here’s the lesson. Forgive yourself for your mistakes, then commit to improvement. As long as your intentions were moral and ethical and your efforts were careful and thorough, there is no valid reason to feel guilty about a mistake, even if it caused harm. Of course when harm has occurred the whole matter of forgiveness and reparations must take place. After that, there’s not much else you can do but move on and do better.
“How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” — Publilius Syrus (~100 BC)
“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” — Norman Cousins (1915-1990)
“Forgiveness does not always lead to a healed relationship. Some people are not capable of love, and it might be wise to let them go along with your anger. Wish them well, and let them go their way.” — Real Live Preacher, RealLivePreacher.com Weblog, July 7, 2003
The worst thing is to allow one mistake to turn into more.
“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.” — Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC)
“If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford (1893-1979)
Accepting our limits and imperfections as humans is not the same as being cavalier about mistakes. Errors are inevitable and they are serious business. Learning to deal properly with mistakes is the mark of a professional.
“Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life” — Sophia Loren
© Copyright October 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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