The Common Cure to Learning From Our Mistakes: A Practical Alternative

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Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

Learning from our failures is commonplace. It’s become almost cliche’, especially in the business and startup world. However, we can learn from others' mistakes also — or better yet — instead. Writer/investor James Altucher refers to this as Failure Porn.

Which is appropriate, especially considering how much some folks enjoy watching others fail. Some aren’t out to learn lessons from our failures, they simply want to pleasure themselves to them. To each their own I guess.

While I don’t particularly enjoy watching fellow humans not succeed, I try and learn from anyone and everyone I meet or come across. I can learn equally as much from both the winning and losing teams, coaches and organizations.

And I advise anyone who wants to play the game to do the same — regardless of which game you aspire to play. There are lessons everywhere and in damn near everything, if we only keep our eyes and minds open.

Figuring out what to do in a given situation isn’t always easy. Life doesn’t come with instructions and unfortunately, we can’t Google Maps our way to success. Sometimes, you simply have to start by figuring out what not to do.

An important part of becoming a Doctor is learning and abiding by the Hippocratic Oath. One of — if not the most important promises within the oath — is primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm’.

One of the quickest and surest ways to harm your chances at success and happiness is to add anger to just about any given situation, no matter how trivial or important of one it is. Anger never helps. It rarely resolves anything. Even if it manages to help you achieve what you were trying to, it leaves you feeling like shit — or heavy and bloated, like you have to take one.

Shining examples of what not to do can be found almost everywhere. Just take a look around you. Have a scroll down your Facebook or Twitter feed and I’ll bet you find multiple examples in no time.

Blaming others is a great place to start — and there’s plenty of that going on all over social media and elsewhere. Not taking responsibility for your own life, mistakes, actions, and inactions is a spinoff or second cousin of blame.

There are very few things I find more childish than a grown adult who can’t or won’t, own their shit. I don’t accept it from my seven-year-old mildly autistic nephew, let alone grown folks with no such condition to speak of.

Not taking responsibility for your actions is like not curbing or picking up after your dog. It’s a breach of the social contract. If we all did it, there’d be shit everywhere. Just bring a plastic bag with you, nobody should have to step in that.

Accountability is like the plastic bag decent and responsible citizens bring with them when they walk their dogs. It prevents us from leaving the shit we should’ve taken with us all over an innocent bystanders lawn.

Blame is the frailest form of cop-out around, yet people try to deploy it on a very regular basis. Our president has made a hobby out of it. Blaming others is like a passion project of his. He seems to enjoy blaming anyone he can, for just about everything. None of it is ever his fault — and there’s been quite a few ‘its' to speak of over these last three years.

When he mentioned airports while referencing The Revolutionary War during a July 4th speech a few months ago, he blamed the teleprompter. Yet, you can find audio and transcripts of him bragging about how he never uses a teleprompter prior to that. You don’t have to be a living, breathing, animate being for him to aim his blame at you.

I challenge you to find a single instance where he took responsibility for a mistake or said something was his fault. I don’t even mean just throughout his presidency, but over his entire lifetime. Narcissistic ego-maniacs never blame themselves for anything, they’re incapable of doing so.

The irony of course being, all great leaders — whether of companies or countries — always blame themselves first. They blame themselves for things that aren’t even necessarily their fault. If an employee of theirs makes a costly mistake, they blame themselves for hiring that person. With great power, comes great responsibility. Great leaders get that. Petty and self-centered ones never seem to or just refuse to put it into practice.

Finding a mentor can be difficult. It can feel impossible, even. Anti-mentors are a dime a dozen though, we’re surrounded by them. They’re at our places of work and our favorite hangouts. They frequent the bars and restaurants we go to and live on the same streets we do.

My neighbor gets his car booted or towed, roughly once a month on average. I don’t know if it’s for unpaid parking tickets or traffic violations, or just not paying his car note. But every thirty days or so, there goes the big yellow boot on his car or the tow company hauling it away.

I’ll give him credit where it’s due, he usually resolves the matter fairly quickly and is back driving it in a few days or so. Which makes me believe he has the money to deal with whatever the issue is in the first place, so why not just do that? How has he not learned from making the same mistake over and over again?

A Facebook friend of mine finds the new “love of her life”, about as often as my neighbor gets his car booted or towed. Except by now, everyone but her knows within a month, she’ll be removing all traces of the man she has been praising and posting picture after picture of, before posting statuses trashing them.

This is another great example of what not to do.

If your last twelve relationships ended badly a month after they started, not only would I suggest perhaps being a bit more cautious in the romantic partners you choose, while also having a very good hard look at yourself as well — but I’d also venture to say maybe you should give it a bit more time before publicly declaring someone your “everything” or the love of your life.

Public figures are great at teaching us what not to do. You can read all about it in the headlines of the past, present, and future.

Celebrities, politicians, athletes — doesn’t matter — name the profession and sprinkled throughout it is a whole list of folks who were or are great at inadvertently demonstrating exactly how not to do it.

And if we’re being honest, we’ve all been this person or at least a version of it. We may manage to keep it in our pants in public, our gaffes may not be as great as those we see on TMZ — but mainly ours just seem less offensive because there usually aren’t cameras following us and generally speaking, nobody other than maybe us is writing articles about them.

And this is a good thing, trust me. Think about the worst thing you’ve done, just this month. Now imagine it was trending on Twitter and in Medium’s topics section. We can pretend we’re better if we want, it’s doubtful though. A different kind of bad is probably all, really.

We don’t have to want to be like someone to be able to learn from them. I often learn more from those I want to be the exact opposite of than I can or do from those I could or would consider mentors — and so can you. Besides, you’ll likely come across far more people you want to be nothing like than those you’d want to mentor you. They come in a much greater abundance. Learn from them, and everyone else you possibly can.

Writing About the Human Condition, via My Thoughts, Observations, Experiences, and Opinions — Founder of Journal of Journeys and BRB INC ©

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