As the old saying goes “If I had a dollar for every mistake I’ve made…” yeah well, you know the rest. But here is the question: do you remember the lesson or do you dwell on the mistake? Allow me to explore this in more detail with some relevant examples that might hit home.
Let’s start with one in the realm of dating that might be a new thought to you, but one that should have occurred a long time ago: Are you just dating the same person over and over? In other words, are you seeking out facsimiles of the first person you ever dated? Not to sound sexist, but it seems more common that women do this, at least in my experience. I personally know several women who have continually sought out and been attracted to the “same guy” they dated in high school and was their first boyfriend. If they dated a tall, socially awkward guy that had a goofy personality, that is who they looked for. A friend of mine got married recently and I jokingly said “Is he the usual guy, tall, thin, dorky that you always date?” Since she lives in a different state and knew I had not met him, she blurted out “How did you know that?” “It’s simple, I replied, you always date that guy, just with a different name and job.” She was stunned.
I could tell through subsequent conversations that that this had never occurred to her. She never gave it a second thought. I think she had just written it off as being attracted to a certain type of guy. But that guy happened to the same guy that she dated in high school, and never broke free of that mold. The logic seems to be that if that person loved me that I need to find the same kind of person to ensure that the new version loves me too. Although it is rare these days that people still marry their high school sweetheart, this dilemma still has a strong hold on people. Remember the lessons from that love, whether the mistakes were yours or theirs, or likely both, and grow from that. Don’t get stuck in the rut of that person being the only one that would fall in love with you, or would make you happy. This is simply not true.
On to another example…let’s look at sports performances. Many people get involved in sports at a young age, and lots of of us have examples of crushing failures and embarrassments that have deterred further participation in that sport. In some cases, that failure bleeds over to their general self confidence and shakes them to the core. My guess this is one of the driving forces behind the concept of youth soccer leagues that don’t keep score in effort to not make any of the kids feel bad. That’s a nice idea on paper, but is that really a good idea? For five year old’s, I am going to say yes. But once you hit a certain age, this is detrimental to everyone who plays. The kids that do well are not rewarded, and the kids that do poorly are not incentivized to practice and get better to avoid the pain of loss and embarrassment. The sting of failure is a great motivation, especially when coupled with unwavering support from parents for trying your best each time out. Not everyone is cut out to play sports all through school, and that is just fine. In fact, weeding out the less capable often pushes those people to pursue different interests that they can reach a high level of skill at.
Most of us have heard the story that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. If this had not happened, would he be considered one of, if not the, best basketball players to ever play the game? The lesson(s) learned from the “mistake” of not being prepared enough to make the high school team was a driving force behind Jordan’s success from that point forward. The pain he felt from getting cut from the team burned inside him, and he used that (learned the lesson) to be sure he never felt that way again. This drove him to heights of skill few have ever compared to. The work ethic developed BECAUSE of that failure was second to none, and this the recipe for success. He learned his lesson, and never allowed himself to be under-prepared for a basketball game to ever again.
Switching gears, let’s look an example from my own life. I remember walking into a sales presentation for a huge opportunity, and I was really nervous. My boss was with me, which made it worse for me, despite him shouldering some of the presentation responsibilities. We were escorted in, sat down, and the CEO said “Why don’t you begin” while motioning to me. What he meant was, please introduce yourself. What I did was dive right into my presentation, skipping over introduction and the socially appropriate small talk and things. My boss jumped in and stopped me, but the damage was done. At least in my mind it was. I felt like I had lost my credibility to the “real professionals” at the table, and imposter syndrome set in. I struggled to sound firm and confident for the rest of the presentation. Needless to say, we did not get the deal. I thought I was going to get fired afterwards, but luckily I was told that I need to relax and just be myself in those situations and things would be fine.
I never forgot that lesson. I do remember the mistake, but the lesson is burned in my brain like this happened yesterday. I have done a MUCH better job of this since that day, and now things are very different. I have reached the point where I never feel intimidated despite who’s board room I am sitting in. Over the years I have amassed a client list that many would be envious of, and I am proud to have risen to the level of proficiency that I now operate in. I love the game of sales, and still consider it fun and exciting, but in my world, the intimidation factor of going to dinner with a potential client or sitting in a conference room of a Fortune 100 company no longer phases me. I do not rehearse what I am going to say in advance; I go and share our story. I know what we do and how well we do it, and that comes shining through in my presentation. That rough lesson early on was a great motivator for me to get better at my craft. I wasn’t shooting five hundred three pointers a day, but in my own way I was polishing my skills. I am, without a doubt, one of the best sales people in my industry because of that (harsh) lesson. I learned my lesson because of that failure.
Regardless of the context you apply this message to, I am convinced this is a major step in the direction of opening your mind and improving at whatever you wish to improve at. When it comes to dating, be open to someone other than a close representation of your first love; in sports, don’t avoid the pain of failure, but understand that is a part of sports and that important lessons come from it. And in a business context, understand that not every deal is going to be won, but every scenario has takeaways and lessons to be learned and applied. You just have to put your ego aside and be willing to review what happened, where you fell short, and how to improve to avoid that in the future. Growth isn’t always fun, but it is necessary…remember that. Oh, and the lesson too!