Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

Mistakes — It’s not the Failures that Define us so Much as How We Respond to Them

I like people admitting they were complete stupid horses’ asses. I know I’ll perform better if I rub my nose in my mistakes. This is a wonderful trick to learn.

“Forgetting your mistakes is a terrible error if you are trying to improve your cognition… Why not celebrate stupidities!” — Charlie Munger

“If anyone can refute me – show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective – I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance” — Marcus Aurelius in Meditations

Sometimes we lose our way.

We make mistakes. We focus on the wrong things. We pursue goals at all costs. We teeter on ethical and moral cliffs. We get too far down a slippery slope. We steal. We cheat. We lie. We deceive others. We deceive ourselves. We don’t open ourselves up to our friends. We see crime or fraud and don’t speak out.

You can be a good person and still exercise poor judgment.

In these moments we’re not the friend others deserve, the partner others choose, the child our parents raised, the exemplar we wish to be, nor the person we’re capable of being.

It can happen to the best of us. We’re human. We all make mistakes.

Just because we’ve lost our way doesn’t mean that we are lost forever. In the end, it’s not the failures that define us so much as how we respond.

Many of us get steered off course at some point in our lives, but what really counts is the choices that follow those mistakes. A teen who gets in trouble with the law, for example, can accept responsibility for his actions, change his behaviour, and go on to lead the nation, or he can see only failure and tumble into a vicious cycle of committing ever-larger crimes.

It’s not that you stumble, it’s that you get back up. It’s not that you did something wrong but that you realize what’s happening and change. It’s not that you messed up as a friend or lover, it’s that you see ways you can be better. Having the wrong priorities is bad enough, but realizing that and refusing to change is worse. It’s not that you never took the time to smell the roses and admire the sunset, it’s that once you realize this you take the time to notice.

Mistakes are bad, no doubt, but not learning from them is worse. The key to learning from mistakes is to admit them without excuses or defensiveness, rub your nose in them a little, and make the changes you need to make to grow going forward. If you can’t admit your mistakes, you won’t grow.