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Stuff Happens

By on March 1, 2017

How are you at handling mistakes?


BY: David A. Kolman, Senior Editor

THE IMPORTANT THING IS OUR RESPONSE—our attitude about mistakes and failures and how we react to them. The best attitude is to appreciate our mistakes for what they are: lessons that many times can only be learned the hard way.

A mistake made early in my trucking career taught me a very valuable lesson that is indelibly etched in my brain. Perhaps you’ve done something similar and can relate to this example. I was dispatched for what should have been a simple drop-and-hook at an unattended trailer yard. I arrived there in the middle of a blustery, very snowy winter night, behind schedule. In my haste, I hooked to the wrong trailer, and off I went.

Imagine my shock when I arrived at my delivery location. You cannot envision how displeased and enraged my dispatcher was about my mistake.

Attitude is Everything

I have discovered that people who are successful understand that while mistakes and failures are obstacles, they also present opportunities. Rather than assigning blame and being afraid to try again to avoid another error or lack of achievement, successful people learn from their mistakes and failures, and press on. Attitude is key: you need to recognize failure as a key to success, because each mistake teaches something.

Another mental outlook common to successful people is the desire and commitment to be successful.

Babe Ruth, a great figure in Major League Baseball history, earned his fame by setting two home run records. Roger Maris topped Ruth’s 1927 season mark of 60 home runs with 61 during 1961. On May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, PA, Ruth hit his 714th round tripper, a career record that stood for almost 40 years until Hank Aaron broke it in 1974.

At the end of his career in 1935, Ruth also held the record for career strikeouts: 1,330. At the time, he struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball history. Ruth’s remarkable career came in part, because he was not afraid to strike out. To date, 117 others—many are fellow Hall of Famers—have topped Ruth’s career strikeout record.

Perhaps the greatest mistake we can make is to be continually afraid we will make a blunder or fail at something.

There is little difference between people, but that little difference can make a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative. Attitude is everything because it drives behavior.

The Roulette Wheel

After finishing a delivery in Las Vegas, my trucking pal, Willis, decided to do a little gambling. He placed a $5 bet at a roulette table. His number won. He continued to bet, each time wagering more money and each time winning. Within a short time, he had accumulated $5,000 in winnings.

Feeling on top of the world with his good luck—and his small fortune—he made his way to the casino’s cashier station. But before arriving there, he felt an urge to bet just one more time.

He returned to the same roulette table where he had been playing. He wagered his entire earnings and watched—with great anticipation—as the wheel spun. It did not stop on his number. The $5,000 was gone.

With that, Willis left the table and returned to his truck. Shortly thereafter, his wife telephoned. “Did you do any gambling?” she asked. “I sure did,” he replied. “How’d you do?” she wanted to know. “I only lost $5,” he told her. Willis is the most positive person I know.


Always keep successes and failures in perspective. Remove the word failure from your vocabulary. Instead, use words like experience, results, challenge, opportunity, temporary setback, and unsuccessful attempt.

Just a matter of semantics? No, it is a process of conditioning the mind to use failure as a steppingstone to success. The next time you make a mistake or fail at something, think of it as an opportunity for learning.


Some tips to help you handle mistakes, move past them, and get on with things:

  1. Acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake. Stay calm, consider what happened and evaluate how much damage has been done.
  2. Accept responsibility for the mistake. Inform others, who will be directly affected by it, know exactly what happened.
  3. Develop a plan to fix the mistake and to minimize its effect.
  4. See what you can learn from the mistake. Experience is a great teacher.
  5. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: the opportunity to begin again, this time with the value of experience.
  6. Once a mistake is handled adequately, forgive yourself and move on.
  7. Don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake. It’s like saying you’re wiser today than you were yesterday.

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