Never Waste a Good Mistake

Never Waste a Good Mistake

fingers holding up a tomato with an odd shape

Never waste a good mistake. Or a tomato like this incompletely developed double one in the picture. Let us enjoy our mistakes! Image: Kakisky.

Never waste a good mistake

It’s impossible to overestimate the value of a good mistake. I am in the throes of having made one. The self-recrimination is avid. The emotions are all over the map.

But the spiritual life is kicking in and peaceful distance obtains.

What makes a mistake “good”?

Any mistake is a good mistake. Any mistake that helps you dig into yourself and see what you are attached to will work. A particularly “bad” mistake is very, very “good” for this purpose. Why? Because you are so attached to not making it. The mistake itself becomes unimportant: the mirror it provides to your attachment is the thing.

What makes a mistake “bad”?

That’s your call. For me, every mistake is a good mistake. I mean that. The pandemic has been very good to me. Being burned out of my building five years ago has been incredibly powerful for me. Life-changing. Working with bad things I have done to others has cleansed me in ways I could never have dreamed doing.

How to use a good mistake

  • First Aid: remember (as quickly as possible): this does not define me.
  • Ask: what part of me is upset about having done this? (Consider doing a “council of selves.”)
  • Identify: where are you feeling the mistake? As the hours pass, check in again; it may have shifted.
  • Allow: let yourself be as ripped open by your mistake as you possibly can be. If you need to wait til you are in private, wait. It will still work. It’s wise not to be ripped open in a public place, it makes you too vulnerable and then you risk making more mistakes.*
  • Find out how this mistake is absolutely perfect: “A Sufi finds joy in sudden disappointment.” There are other axioms in other spiritual traditions. Be open to watching, over the days as the mistake unfurls, the thread of cause and effect you’ve put into place through this mistake.
  • Write about it: this post is helping me unspool my mistake and explore it.

Please feel free to share your own process for working with a mistake.


*I know it may sound contradictory to encourage you to avoid making mistakes. But I do. Mistakes you make on purpose are disingenuous. It’s sort of like teasing or trying to fool the Universe. The Universe has got your back. There truly are no mistakes from its point of view. So let it work. Only make the mistakes you have to; the rest of the time, just be open to the Cosmic Curriculum at work in your life.

4 Comments
  • Cat Ransom
    Posted at 17:18h, 03 October Reply

    The mistake that kills you (might possibly) be the bad mistake. Like texting while driving. A mistake which harms others is probably a bad mistake.
    But the one that brings your ego right, smack-dab in your face is the best. We can learn from the mistakes of others and then their mistake has the potential to have a ripple of benefit. Mistakes in the kitchen are a good metaphor for life; was it pretty? No, but it was nourishing. I always try to eat my own culinary mistakes so nothing goes to waste. Like all good mistakes. I’ve thought a lot about mistakes because I’m so good at making them. Kevin O’Neill, PhD, and Bill McDonald, PhD, used to encourage us to make mistakes in the classroom, where it was safe. Bill was gentler and suggested “practicing” which was a way of saying, “Risk. Take a chance. Go for it! There’s a safety net; we’ve got you.” At a certain point, we have to fly without a net. Or maybe I should say, we become our own net. and those closest to us (hopefully) become the first aid team, when needed. That’s probably when we should truly be considered adults.
    I know a woman who works extremely hard to never make a mistake. She is painfully rigid and can’t cope with changes to her routine. It must be hard to be her. I think a few mistakes is a small price to pay for being fluid and able to meet the new with confidence. Perhaps a good definition of “adulting” (one of my favorite neologisms) is ‘the ability to face new challenges with relative aplomb and learn from one’s mistakes.’

    • Beth
      Posted at 18:48h, 03 October Reply

      Cathy, this is so wonderful. So well thought! I love “Mistakes in the kitchen”: “Was it pretty? No, but it was nourishing.” Fabulous metaphor. And what you say about it making us adults–yes! Your colleague may never have had a safety net like we did in those two good men at the place we went to college, eh?

  • Marissa
    Posted at 00:18h, 09 October Reply

    I loooooooooove this! I just wanted to say that, that is all!

    • Beth
      Posted at 17:14h, 10 October Reply

      Marissa–
      thanks!!!!

Post A Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.