Are All Mistakes Failures?
Do we really learn from our mistakes? Or do they just haunt us, hound us, hollow us out by eroding our confidence? Are there really lessons through which we may improve? Can what we consider to be a mistake be something other than failure? Is there any merit in trying?
The recent news about banks failing is unsettling. Billions of dollars withdrawn electronically. Like sands slipping silently through an hourglass. We seldom think about that happening. But then again, we are accustomed to and enamored by success. We keep doing what works. We do stuff we know we can do. We hardly ever take risks. We invest carefully... not only our money but also our energy, our devotion, our time. We play it safe. We seek to preserve, conserve. We'd rather not fail. But isn't that a natural part of life?
At some point our bodies begin to fail if we live long enough. Joints ache or need to be replaced. Organs no longer function fully and require medications to keep going. Sometimes more drastic measures like surgeries or transfusions are needed to prolong failure... yes, prolong, not prevent. Ultimately, the heart will stop pumping, the lungs will cease to inflate, the brain will fail to transmit. Will we have lived before we die? Do the mistakes we have made cripple us with shame, crumple our spirits with regret? Or can we accept that our journey, while tangled by twists and pocked with potholes, doesn't have to be seen as failure? Making mistakes doesn't mean we are a mess. It means we are human.
We call someone by the wrong name - do we resolve to never speak again? We take a wrong turn and drive an extra seven miles getting home - do we hang up the car keys? We trust a friend with a piece of truth that turns up across town in someone else's mouth - do we withdraw and withhold from everyone everywhere? Do these mistakes make our lives failures, or do we keep on living fully, freely, boldly?
Brene Brown took the title of one of her books from the rousing words of Theodore Roosevelt delivered in a speech in April of 1910. The address contains these words: "there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."
We are neither messes nor mistakes. We are far from failures. We are human beings who walk with feet of clay and bear the brokenness of our hearts, our promises, our dreams, and who, moment to moment, have opportunities to dare greatly. And it could be a shame not to.