The Enormous Value of Mistakes

Mistakes happen a lot. And sometimes our mistakes create very embarrassing situations. And sometimes they really damage our results greatly.

And that’s perfectly okay.

We are all humans. We all make mistakes. We do things without realizing what we’re doing, and sometimes those things we do turn out to be fairly awful and hurt people.

We can beat ourselves up over and over and over, or we can honestly admit to ourselves that it really was a mistake, apologize for it, learn how to improve our future behaviors, and move forward.

So what will it be?

Are you going to remain stuck in sorrow and self-loathing for the rest of your life, or are you going to say, “Here is what I learned from this experience, and I will keep that lesson in mind as I go forward”?

Who Has Influenced Your Life?

My son, Ben, had to conduct an interview for his senior language arts class. He needed someone who talks a lot. He said to his teacher, “I’ve got just the right guy.” I’m not sure I’m taking that as a compliment.

One question was, “Who has influenced your life?” I said, “My dad. He was remarkably consistent. He was married to the same woman for 54 years, worked at the same organization for 42 years, went to church several times a week at 6 AM for many decades, always focused on his family over work, constantly kept encouraging all of his kids to keep going, and had the same mantra all of his life: good things come to those who wait.”

Thinking about my dad, who died almost exactly ten years ago, made me realize how one person affects another person. So much of him is in me. One my favorite sayings to my son is, “Habits make all the difference. Develop good habits and you never know what you might be able to achieve.”

I think Dad and I were saying the same thing.

Who has influenced your life?

Empty Your Mind on to a Sheet of Paper

Last night I read the first two chapters of David Allen’s famous book, Getting Things Done.

Very practical and useful. Here’s my main take away.

Any time an idea comes into your mind that you need to do something about, write it down immediately. Always write it down on the same piece of paper, or in the same place on your computer/cell phone. Whatever you do, do it the same way every single time. Never carry it around in your mind. Empty what you need to get done on to a piece of paper as quickly as you can. Now you don’t have to think about it anymore until you go back to the piece of paper.

Then go to each item on your list at least once every few days, and answer these two questions:

  1. What is my objective for doing this thing?
  2. What do I need to actually do to make it happen?

Then move into action.

That’s it. That’s the miracle of getting things done. Identify what you need to think about and write it down immediately. Identify what objective you’re trying to achieve as a result of getting it done. Then write down what you need to do in order to get it done. And then go do it.

Don’t skip any of those little pieces. Voila! You got something done.

What do you want to be really good at doing?

Choose something you want to be really good at doing. Write it down.

Now immerse yourself in learning about it.

I’m reading a book called, Honor’s Voice, by Douglas Wilson. It’s about the years 1831-1842 in the life of Abraham Lincoln. This is when he was 22 – 33. These were his formative years as an adult.

Chapter 2 is called “Self-Education” and it describes in detail how obsessed Lincoln was with constantly reading on a wide range of topics: politics, religion, proper grammar, and on and on. He was constantly reading newspapers and books. He very much wanted to improve himself in an intentional way. John Stuart met him in 1832 and in 1860, the year Lincoln won the presidential election, he said, “There are no striking points in his history. Growth was steady, gradual, and constant.”

That’s the way we can do it. Choose something you want to be really good at doing, and then immerse yourself in learning about that something.

To Deliver Excellence, Study Excellence

Excellence, as I define it, is doing the best you can while learning how to do it better the next time.

If you want to deliver excellence in your work, I encourage you to study excellence in other people’s work.

Bill Belichick is hated by many people. My suggestion is stop wasting your time on hate, and see what you can learn from what he does well and how he does it so well. Over the past 20 years his team has been very competitive in 9 Super Bowls and has won 6 of them. This just doesn’t happen by accident or by cheating. He’s doing something extraordinarily well.

I believe his secret is literally in the details. He understands the details of overall strategy and tactics of football, his own personnel, the other team’s personnel, and the other team’s coaching habits and trends. He then assembles a plan to take away the other team’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses. Recently he said his father, Steve, who coached at Navy, owned more than 4,000 books on football exclusively focused on pre-1960 football. He talked about spending many hours in the basement of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio as a boy. He has literally spent a lifetime immersed in the details of how to win football games.

I don’t know very much about football. I have no idea what all those X’s and O’s really mean. But I do realize that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have demonstrated excellence over the past two decades, and I believe they have lessons to teach all of us.

I believe the lesson for all of us on how to deliver excellence is in the details, the details of whatever we do.

Your Story Hasn’t Been Written Yet

I’m reading the book, Grant, by Ron Chernow. I’m on page 90. Ulysses Grant is 32 years old. He just resigned from the U.S. Army after multiple drinking issues. He has two children and no money. His wife and children are 1800 miles away. He suffers from alcoholism, depression, and a propensity for making really bad financial investments. It’s April 11, 1854.

Over the next 11 years he leads the North to victory in the Civil War and preserves the United States of America. He goes on to become the President of the United States.

Whatever challenge you’re dealing with today is almost certainly not the end of your story. There are many chapters still to go.

Take a deep breath, focus on what you want to do today, and step forward. Who knows where the journey can take you.

Severe Cold Allows for Serious Reflection

If you are lucky enough to be inside today in the many parts of the U.S. and Canada that are below zero degrees Fahrenheit, use this opportunity to reflect on some aspect of your life.

Some days things simply shut down. Schools shut down, cars don’t start, and your external world grinds to a halt. When you can’t do what you had planned to do, turn inward.

Choose an area of your life: work, home, family, personal, financial, physical, social, community, or some other area.

Then answer these three questions:

  1. What is going well in this area of my life, and why is that going well?
  2. What is not going well in this area of my life, and why is that not going well?
  3. What could I do that I’m not currently doing to make this area of my life better, and why do I feel that way?

Take an hour out of a bitterly cold day, and reflect on those three questions. Look at your answers, and discern what you want to pull out of your answers and put into action.

This act of using your mental engine can make today an incredibly important day for your future.

Then, of course, you have to go do what you identified in order to improve your future.