Why are we afraid to admit our mistakes?

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb

“You can never learn less; you can only learn more.  The reason I know so much is because I have made so many mistakes.”   Buckminster Fuller

When my niece, Kate, was ready to start kindergarten, she had to first go through an interview consisting of ten questions to assess her social skills.  Nine of her answers were deemed “correct” but the reason she got one wrong  shocked me.

Question: “What do you do if you break something?”

Kate’s honest reply: “You tell the truth.”

Wrong answer!

The answer the school was looking for was, “you fix it.”

This doting aunt was quite appalled that Kate didn’t get credit for her excellent answer.  The U.S. might still be a British colony if George Washington had attended that kindergarten!

How our culture forces us to fail!

I used to be afraid to admit my mistakes.  In fact I was terrified of it.  I somehow felt I had to be perfect – what pressure!  A mistake was failure and failure was not an option in my world.

Perhaps it’s our success-driven culture.  We worship perfection, particularly in physical beauty.  Our society has a built-in criticism factor.  Advertisements and commercials are set up to compare us to others.  We need to buy or do something to be “better.”  The continuing message is that we have therefore failed.

Our educational system compounds the problem by being mistake-centered.  The grading system puts us above or below others.  That constant comparison is stressful and makes us fearful of making mistakes.

Fear of failure keeps us playing safe and never blossoming into our full potential.  Remember this truth: no one’s opinion counts except your own.

The turning point for me came in a surprising way.  Decades ago I was reading a book which gave the following exercise:

Make a list of the 10 people [living or dead] who you most admire and what it is you admire about them.  I don’t recall who I put on the list, but I distinctly recall what they all had in common: spectacular failures – and picked themselves up and kept right on going.

So I started getting a bit more courageous in my life, particularly after absorbing the teaching of Buckminster Fuller that,  “there are no mistakes, only learning experiences.”

Here are some statistics that may give you some comfort:

Thomas Edison failed 999 times before he came up with an electric bulb that worked.  He didn’t feel he failed 999 times; he simply found 999 ways of it not working.

Basketball legend Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot … and missed.  I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why … I succeed.”

Walt Disney was turned down 302 times before the banks lent him the money to build Disneyland!

Col. Sanders got hundreds of rejections before finding backing for “Col. Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Dr. Seuss was rejected by 28 publishers and J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 before getting their first books published.

A great definition of fear is:  FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real.  How often have we dreaded an outcome only to have everything turn out fine?  I bet you can cite many instances from your own life right now.

Think back, do an assessment.  Be grateful for all the learning experiences that have made you who you are today and go forth and learn a lot more.  For which I congratulate you in advance.

“In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk.”

Robert T. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad

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3 Comments

  1. Culliver

    Repeated one notices that what first appeared to be a failure or a mistake was the necessary happening to come to the next wonderful, delightful and rewarding place. Something about that crucifixion before the resurrection . . .
    Thank you ~

    • Molly Larkin

      Yes! That’s why I love calling them learning experiences. Resurrections is a good way to look at it, too. Thank you.

  2. Thank you once again. This again resonates with the path that I am on in this journey. ~jean

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