Mistakes and How We Respond to Them

In elementary school, our art teacher would coax us into making some unintended dribble or scribble into a “happy mistake.” I was not receptive. I would rather have started over so that I might have some pristine piece of art when I was done. A quarter of a century later, I think I’m finally catching on. There is beauty in the mistake…as unappealing and potentially cliche as that sounds. Learning or growing often comes from mistakes, in art class or in life.

I’d like to say that I make a fair amount of mistakes. I often think that I’d like to take them back. There are things I wish I said differently and some situation I could have handled with more skill and grace. But that’s not how it works. “To err is human” said Alexander Pope. He was right. I don’t think making mistakes are a flaw of being human, though. I think to err is to evolve as a human.

It’s a problem to see mistakes as something that we should be ashamed of. A mistake is an unintended error of which we have little ability to avoid at the time. It’s how you respond afterwards that matters. I didn’t mean to drip paint on my portrait of Cuddles, my beloved cat, in first grade, but it happened anyway. Should I have scolded myself and thought myself a failure? Or should I have embraced this and made Cuddles a multicolored, glamorous version of himself?

If we can allow ourselves some room for mistakes, then we can see and accept them. When we can reflect, then we can learn and re-evaluate. We can be accountable and make changes that help ourselves and those around us. When we deny our mistakes and become defensive, there is no room for growth or positive change.

I can see that there are situations that in the future I want to handle differently. In the meantime, I think it’s best to acknowledge where I could have done better and hope for the divine response of forgiveness.

1 Comment

  1. another jennifer

    I’ve always seen mistakes as chances to learn. Though I hate making them, there’s always been a little bit of that art teacher in me that wonders what I can create from the mistake. It’s not an easy thing to learn, though. I’m seeing that with my older son. That brain of ours is a tricky thing!

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