First, a quick note on what constitutes a “mistake.” There are those who say that mistakes are mistakes–you done wrong. Period.

Then there’s the camp that says there is no such thing as a mistake–that every experience in life is a learning opportunity, yadda yadda yadda.

In service to transparency–I tend to fall into the latter camp. Mistakes are learning experiences, and in the end, I have no regrets. I dig the gifts that have come from the “mistakes” I’ve made.

But let’s also be realistic–the choices we make have repercussions on our lives and the lives of others. It strikes me as a bit too smug, a tad too shiny and glib, to brightly proclaim, “Why, there’s no such thing as a mistake!” and leave it at that. Also worth noting? I do run into the occasional person who uses this to excuse themselves from having a conscience about their poor behavior.

Now, having said all that, you’ll know where I’m coming from: integrity all the way, owning your choices, including making the choice to learn from your “mistakes.”

 

Here are my top seven “Life Mistakes”–and what you can learn from them:

1.) Staying in any relationship past its expiration date. You know what I’m talking about–when everything in you senses that this is O-V-E-R, and the weeks (or, ahem, months) of girding your loins to end it are just time wasted trying to avoid the “breakup feelings” that you know you’re going to feel, anyway. Doubly true for the time I stayed with this guy.

2.) Keeping anything at all past its expiration date. Same logic as above, and I’ve done this more than once. For instance, I once dumped $1k into an old car that everyone, including my father, was telling me to get rid of. Did the car last? Of course not. Just as with relationships, you can’t resuscitate something that is dying–you can only keep putting time or money into it. Just recently, it was time to either invest money into tuning up my old car, or decide to get a new one. I called my father, who said, “Get a new one.” This time, I listened. Same goes for jeans that no longer fit, jobs that are underwhelming, or anything else that is not a match. Find a way to make it a match, and if you don’t, release it.

3.) Trying to work for myself without having enough money, experience, or collaborative networks–thinking “If you build it, they will come.” Note: What I learned from that experience was not that I should always have a plan, but rather–how to fail, and fail better, and fail better, until I wasn’t failing any longer. It’s a harder road, but it taught a shit-ton of self-sufficiency and really honed my tenacity for picking myself back up, not to mention it being behind the massive success of The Coaching Blueprint, which helps people to circumvent as many of those mistakes as possible.

4.) Repeating gossip about other people–even if it’s not a slam. I once repeated gossip I’d heard, not from the perspective of agreement, but from the perspective of, “Isn’t it shitty that so-and-so said such-and-such about our friend, Nice Person?” Somehow, it got back to Nice Person that Kate had been the one saying “such-and-such” when in fact I’d only been repeating the “such-and-such” and disagreeing with it. The fallout from that experience? Brutal. Many a coaching session went into dissecting that one, and particularly healing the wounds that came from being left out of the social circle. What did I learn from it? Tons.

5.) Not telling that “social web guru” what I really thought of her condescending attitude, and asking her to either make right or send me a refund. Lesson learned? Not speaking up in times like these will make you feel like a sucker. As Brene Brown says, “Choose discomfort over resentment.”

6.) Pulling an “I’m mad at you, so I’m not talking to you” with a few friends over the years. Apparently, the thirteen-year-old in me didn’t quite get over herself until I was in my latter twenties and decided to grow up and let people make their own choices without my judgment. Lesson learned? Self-righteousness is painful.

7.) Losing my temper in big, bad, scary ways–ways that are out of control and completely unfair, even abusive. What have I learned from that anger? A lot about how to work with it and have compassion for myself, as well as the humbling realization that all the self-help work in the world would not justify bad behavior. It’s also simultaneously vulnerable and powerful to own up to it.

 

Beyond making mistakes, I have more interest in the question of how we learn from them, how we course-correct, and what the mistakes contribute to our lives.

I can see how some of the mistakes on this list had more impact because they were repeated several times–we continue to make the same mistake, over and over, hoping that it’ll turn out differently the next time, that life will justify our old pattern rather than giving us the message that we need to take responsibility for our lives and be the stewards of change.

It’s worth evaluating your life and asking yourself–are there any places where I do that? Where I make the same choice, again and again, and it’s clearly not serving me?

Fear might be running the game at those times, but there’s always the big bold possibility of practicing courage. That’s how you see what’s on the other side of the mistake–by feeling stuck and pissed and sad and worried and alone, and choosing to walk through the fire, anyway.

P.S. I’ll be there, right beside you. Let’s be beautifully, imperfectly human–together.