Letting Go of Mistakes

I was at a local bookstore, engrossed in the new John Grisham novel when my elbow accidentally knocked over a display stand. 

Books tumbled everywhere, drawing the attention of everyone present.

I was so embarrassed by my carelessness. My face was redder than a beetroot, and I mumbled quiet apologies to everyone around me. 

Just as I was about to make an exit, I came face to face with the owner. 

Instead of a reprimand, he chuckled, “Gravity’s law, young man. Even Newton couldn’t defy it. Let’s pick these up together.”

I will forever remember that moment of grace. It wasn’t about the books or the mess; it was about the choice to show kindness.

It makes you wonder – How often do we hold onto others’ mistakes? 

We’ve all been on both sides – as the one who errs and the one who observes. But what if, instead of holding onto the error, we embraced the opportunity for grace and understanding?

The Courage to Admit Mistakes

I’m sure you’re no stranger to the sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you’ve made an error.

We’ve all been there.

Whether it’s a misplaced word in a report, a forgotten anniversary, or a misjudgment in a relationship, mistakes are a part of the human experience. 

But why is it that the act of admitting them feels like scaling Mount Everest without any gear?

From a young age, many of us are conditioned to equate mistakes with failure. Society often celebrates perfection, leaving little room for error. The spotlight is on success stories, while tales of missteps are whispered in hushed tones. 

But here’s a thought: What if mistakes were actually stepping stones, not stumbling blocks?

I recall a conversation with my dear friend, Maya[*]. She was a brilliant artist but had once used the wrong shade of blue in a commissioned piece. Instead of hiding it, she openly shared her error with her client. 

To her surprise, the client loved the ‘unique touch.’ 

Maya’s vulnerability and her courage to admit her mistake not only saved the day but also deepened her client relationship.

As the great Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” 

It’s through these experiences that we grow, learn, and evolve. But the first step, often the hardest, is admitting that we erred. It’s about stripping away the armor of pride, standing bare in our truth, and saying, “I was wrong.”

But why is this admission so powerful? Because it’s an act of courage. 

It’s choosing authenticity over pretense, growth over stagnation. It’s acknowledging that while we may not be perfect, we are always in the process of becoming better versions of ourselves.

The Grace of Letting Go

Imagine holding onto a heavy stone, gripping it tightly in your hand. With each passing moment, the weight becomes more burdensome, the strain more evident. 

Now, imagine the relief of releasing that stone, letting it fall away, and feeling the lightness return to your hand. 

Such is the power of grace, the act of letting go.

In our lives, mistakes made by ourselves or others can become those heavy stones. We clutch onto them, replaying the events, the words, the emotions, allowing them to define our interactions and cloud our judgments. 

But what if we chose to release that weight? 

What if we embraced the grace of letting go?

Mistakes, as painful as they might be, can be openings for deeper understanding, compassion, and connection. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall,” Nelson Mandela once remarked.

By letting go, we’re not erasing or ignoring the mistake; we’re choosing to focus on the potential for growth, healing, and renewal.

But how does one cultivate this grace? 

It begins with empathy, understanding that everyone, at some point, falters. It’s nurtured by perspective, recognizing that mistakes are mere chapters, not the entirety of a person’s story. 

And it’s solidified by choice, the conscious decision to prioritize harmony over discord, love over resentment.

The Consequences of Holding onto Mistakes

There’s a saying that goes, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” While it might sound dramatic, it captures the essence of the self-destructive nature of holding onto past mistakes.

Holding onto mistakes does more than just strain relationships; it becomes a heavy burden on our psyche. It’s like carrying a backpack filled with stones, each stone representing a past grievance. 

Over time, this weight affects our posture, our stride, and our ability to move forward freely.

Erosion of Trust 

Trust, once broken, is challenging to rebuild. By continuously revisiting past mistakes, we prevent the wounds from healing, making it difficult to re-establish trust.

Mental and Emotional Drain

Constantly ruminating on past errors can lead to stress, anxiety, and even depression. It’s a mental loop that saps our energy and joy.

Stunted Personal Growth

By focusing on the past, we rob ourselves of the present. This fixation prevents us from learning, growing, and evolving from our experiences.

Barrier to Effective Communication

Holding onto mistakes often leads to passive-aggressive behavior, preventing open and honest communication, which is vital for resolution and understanding.

You can’t change the past, but you can ruin a perfectly good present by worrying about the future based on it. The choice is ours: do we want to remain tethered to past mistakes, or do we want to release them, learn from them, and embrace the present?

Outcome Over Ego

But what drives this resentment? Often, it’s our ego. You’ll be surprised to know how our ego can sometimes overshadow the bigger picture.

In a world driven by achievements, accolades, and applause, it’s easy to let our ego take the driver’s seat. But when ego leads, it often blinds us to the bigger picture, prioritizing self over the collective good.

I remember a time in my early writing days when I received feedback on a piece I was particularly proud of. The critique was constructive, but my ego reared its head. 

Instead of seeing it as an opportunity for growth, I saw it as an attack on my abilities. It took a while to realize that my ego was clouding my judgment. 

The feedback wasn’t about diminishing my work; it was about elevating it.

So, what does it mean to prioritize outcome over ego?

Seeing Beyond the Self 

It’s recognizing that every interaction, every project, every endeavor is bigger than just us. It’s about the collective impact and the shared goal.

Valuing Growth Over Pride 

It’s understanding that mistakes, feedback, and challenges are avenues for growth, not attacks on our self-worth.

Embracing Humility 

It’s the ability to say, “I was wrong,” or “I don’t know the answer,” and seeing strength in vulnerability.

Focusing on the Bigger Picture 

It’s about asking, “What’s best for the situation?” rather than “What’s best for my image?”

Ego tells us to protect, defend, and shield ourselves. But in doing so, it often isolates us, preventing genuine connections, growth, and progress. 

As the brilliant C.S. Lewis once remarked, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” 

On the other hand, prioritizing outcome means looking beyond the immediate self, seeing the broader horizon, and understanding that sometimes, the best results come when we set our ego aside.

Encouraging a Culture of Openness and Grace

I remember a chat I overheard once at my old job between a couple of newer colleagues. It went something like this, “I wish our team would just admit when they mess up. It would save so much time and energy.” The other nodded, adding, “But they’re probably afraid of the backlash. We need to change that.”

This exchange got me thinking about the environments we cultivate, both personally and professionally. How do we foster spaces where people feel safe to admit their mistakes, learn from them, and move forward?

Lead by Example 

As leaders, whether in a family, a community, or a corporation, our actions set the tone. When we openly admit our mistakes, apologize, and take corrective action, we send a powerful message. 

It’s okay to be human.

Open Channels of Communication 

Create platforms where team members, friends, or family can voice concerns, share feedback, or discuss errors without fear of retribution. This could be regular team meetings, family sit-downs, or even anonymous suggestion boxes.

Celebrate Growth Over Perfection 

Instead of highlighting only successes, celebrate growth. Did someone learn from a past mistake and implement a new strategy? Applaud that. It shifts the focus from ‘never messing up’ to ‘constantly evolving.’

Provide Constructive Feedback 

When mistakes happen, approach them as learning opportunities. Instead of placing blame, discuss what went wrong, why it happened, and how it can be avoided in the future.

Reinforce the Value of Trust 

Trust is the bedrock of any relationship. Regularly reinforce the idea that while mistakes can dent trust temporarily, hiding them can shatter it.

Share Stories of Redemption 

Everyone loves a good comeback story. Share tales of individuals who made mistakes, learned from them, and emerged stronger. It instills hope and reinforces the idea that errors aren’t the end but a bend in our journey.

In my own journey, both as a writer and a human being, I’ve tried to cultivate spaces of understanding and grace. Spaces where mistakes aren’t feared but are seen as signposts on the road to growth.

By encouraging a culture of openness and grace, we allow that light to shine, illuminating paths of understanding, growth, and connection.

To Wrap Things Up …

My wife introduced me to the Japanese art of Kintsugi – the practice of repairing broken pottery with gold. Instead of hiding the cracks, they are highlighted, celebrating the beauty in imperfection and the history of the object. 

Mistakes, like those cracks in pottery, are inevitable. While they are often viewed through a lens of regret, they are invaluable teachers. 

They push us out of our comfort zones, challenge our perceptions, and pave the way for growth. But the true magic unfolds when we pair these mistakes with understanding and grace.

I’ve seen, firsthand, how grace can change the course of a story, turning a moment of regret into a lesson of a lifetime. It’s turned arguments into discussions, hurt into healing, and acquaintances into lifelong friends.

Carl Rogers, a renowned psychologist, once said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” 

Make the graceful change. 

Because life is too short, too precious, to be spent looking in the rearview mirror.

[*] Maya is a pseudonym used to protect the identity of the original person.


Why is it so hard for people to admit their mistakes?

Admitting mistakes often makes individuals feel vulnerable, as it confronts their self-image and the fear of judgment. However, acknowledging errors is the first step towards growth and self-improvement.

How can I cultivate a mindset of understanding and grace in my daily life?

Begin with self-reflection, practice active listening, and remind yourself that everyone, including you, is on a unique journey. Reading, meditation, and engaging in open conversations can also foster this mindset.

Isn’t holding onto mistakes a way to ensure they aren’t repeated?

While it’s essential to learn from mistakes, holding onto them can become a mental burden. The key is to extract the lesson and then move forward with that knowledge, without letting the mistake define you.

How can I encourage others to be more understanding?

Lead by example. When you consistently display understanding and grace, it inspires others to do the same. Open dialogues and sharing personal experiences can also help.

What if someone keeps making the same mistake? Should I still show understanding?

While understanding is crucial, it’s also essential to set boundaries. If someone repeatedly makes the same error, a constructive conversation addressing the issue might be necessary.

How can I let go of past mistakes that deeply affected me?

Healing takes time. Consider seeking professional counseling, journaling your feelings, practicing mindfulness, or engaging in activities that bring you joy and peace.

Why is ego often a barrier to understanding?

Ego is rooted in self-identity and protection. It can make individuals defensive and less open to perspectives that challenge their beliefs or actions. Recognizing the influence of ego is the first step in minimizing its impact.

How can I differentiate between genuine understanding and mere appeasement?

Genuine understanding comes with empathy, active listening, and a desire to connect. Appeasement, on the other hand, is often superficial and lacks depth or genuine concern.

How does understanding benefit professional relationships?

Understanding fosters trust, open communication, and collaboration in professional settings. It reduces conflicts, promotes a positive work environment, and can lead to more innovative solutions.