Learning from our mistakes

“A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”  Proverbs 22:3& 27:12  NIV

It has been said “Learn from the mistakes of others.  You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”  That is good advice.  But even better advice is this “Be sure to learn from your own mistakes. Life is too precious to be repeating them.” 

Life’s most valuable lessons can come from our mistakes and disappointments.  Learning from them positions us for success. 

The story is told of the reporter interviewing a very successful bank president. “What is the secret to your success?” he asked.  “Two words” replied the president.  “And, sir, what are they?”  “Right decisions.”  “And how do you make right decisions?” “One word.”  “And sir, what is that?”  “Experience.”  “And how do you get experience?”  “Two words.”  “And sir, what are they?”  “Wrong decisions!”

The Scripture verse quoted above is unique in that it appears in an identical form in two separate places in the book of Proverbs.  To my knowledge it is one of only two verses that are duplicated like that in the entire book. (see also Proverbs 12:15 & 16:25)  That fact alone is noteworthy enough to urge us to take heed to its advice.  What it tells us is that the difference between a prudent man and a simpleton is that one learns from bad experiences while the other doesn’t.

I have lived long enough to admit that I have made my share of bad decisions and have played the part of both the prudent man and the simpleton.  I know both the joy of learning from my mistakes and the pain of repeating them.  It has convinced me of how desperately I need God’s help to learn and benefit from my mistakes.  And through all of this I have come to realize that the most valuable lessons to be learned from failure are those a person learns about themselves.

Typically when I blow it big time I have a tendency to replay the catastrophe over and over in my mind.  Like many people I am prone to ask the “why” question and construct a list of all the things that I could have, should have, would have done differently if I ‘d had my wits about me. That can be helpful for the learning process if it is drawn to a constructive conclusion.  But if it degenerates into a downward spiral of personal blame and regret it can actually hinder learning and lock a person in a prison of fear of future failure.

A better, more redemptive approach is to ask the Lord to show you what lessons He wants to teach you about yourself.  Bottom line, God is always more interested in conforming us to the image of His Son than having us be successful at something.  Why not think about your negative experience in terms of your initial expectations, your attitude, your reactions, your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes and especially your connection and/or disconnection with God through all of it.

Several months ago I experienced a major disappointment as a result of some decisions I had made.  Having evaluated it from both perspectives, replaying all the details of the event versus looking at what God was teaching me about myself, I found the latter approach to be much more beneficial.  I learned some very valuable lessons about myself primarily related to my tendency toward self-sufficiency.  In the end I had to acknowledge that I wouldn’t trade those benefits of that experience for anything.

What have you learned about bad decisions and failures in your life?

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