Skip to content

How We Respond and Learn From Our Mistakes

Erik C. Rutledge
Erik C. Rutledge
2 min read

Update Aug 4, 2020: The below was written for the publication Uloop. It has been preserved for authenticity.

There was already a lot of tension in the room. Dread loomed over the entire class. Every heart was pounding and with every breath we inched closer towards our fate.

There it was; the list of names in alphabetical order. One by one each person took their stand. One by one each person made it through. My name was next. I took a deep breath, rehearsing “In through your nose, out through your mouth. In through your nose, out through your mouth.” I walked to the front of the room. I scanned the room to mentally gauge the situation, waited for the head nod from my teacher. The moment I had been thinking about for hours.

I said the first sentence. And then the next. And the next. Before I knew it, I had made it through the first of three paragraphs I was going to say. That’s when it hit me. Blankness. Nothingness. I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to say. It had been there 15 seconds before, where could it have gone? Just like the flash of a lightning strike, it was there one second and gone the next. What do I do? What do I say? When my mind came back to the room, reality hit me again. I’m still in front of all these people; not saying anything at all. I scrambled to find the words to say next, but hesitated to say the wrong thing.

Eventually, I skipped around and (mostly) got everything out I wanted them to hear. But it was all out of order. Did it even make an sense? I hadn’t even listened to what I said, all I could focus on was what to say next. Then someone asked a question, which gave a brief glimmer that they generally understood my idea. I took my seat as the class gave me an applause, but what felt like pity. Mentally replaying the disaster of a performance, I snapped my pen in two. It didn’t take long and I just wanted to forget the whole thing. I shuttered each time I thought about it, and I knew I never wanted to experience that again. Unfortunately, I can’t have both.

Experiences like this don’t come along everyday. Except how frequently we experience them is more or less irrelevant. The key is how we respond and learn from them.

On the one hand, I can do everything in my power to push that experience as far away as possible. Shield myself from the embarrassment and shame by pretending that it didn’t happen. I can blame some external force for being against me. Or I can implant this feeling into my memory and use it as the motivation to never experience it again. Accept that it happened once and know that it will be the last.

Making a mistake isn’t bad. Making the same mistake repeatedly is bad. Never forget the embarrassment, shame, or regret. Let it go and learn from it.