Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The necessity of making mistakes

Reading about mistakes made by illustrious individuals is why people enjoy biographies. In this respect, little, insubstantial errors don't count. A solid biography must contain at least one horrendous, shattering mistake.
  • A great actor who accepts a role in a trash movie and ruins his career.
  • A successful fund manager who makes a bad investment and experiences enormous losses.
  • A self-made millionaire who marries a worthless woman and goes through devastating divorce.
Many biographies provide extensive details about how eminent persons turn into fools. Vanity and greed play a role sometimes, although less frequently than venal authors like to portray. The truth is that, in the great majority of cases, mistakes are made in good faith, out of insufficient knowledge, insight, or perspective.

Dangers that appear self-evident in hindsight often pass undetected under real-life strains and tensions. Demanding readers expect stories to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. We want books to provide teachings that go beyond the trite and commonplace. There is no point in reading about past mistakes if we cannot draw lessons for the future. How can you overcome feelings of impotence, sadness, and guilt after you have committed a gigantic error?

Here is what I have learned form reading History. As soon as we realize the full extent of a major error, psychological misery arises from comparing ourselves to others or to a parallel reality that would have existed if we had known better. Such negative emotional reactions rest on a logical fallacy that only determined reasoning can erase.

Mistakes are personal. The knowledge present in an individual's mind is the only relevant factor when it comes to taking decisions. This means that, after making a mistake, you should avoid comparing your situation with someone else's. It makes little sense to lament how well you could be doing if you had made wiser choices.

Each of us is born in different circumstances and each life is unique. Individuals have to grow at their own pace and learn their own lessons. Competition is a fallacy because life is not a race. Experience can be painful but it is irreplaceable. Don't linger on illogical comparisons that bring nothing but misery. Stand up and look ahead. Your next achievement will bring you farther. Mistakes can make you a better human being and show you the way to happiness. Let them.


[Image by Fr Antunes under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]