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Make ‘Successful’ Mistakes

“Successful mistakes.” Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Can there actually be a link between blunders and success? The answer to this question is a resounding yes! As human beings we err regularly — mistakes are common. Unfortunately, we tend to view errors as failures. We overlook the possibility that the seeds of success are planted within our blunders.

Sarah is a bright and sensitive woman who recently sought my counsel. Her teenage daughter, Lauren, had behaved irresponsibly and found herself in a bind — one that would have sent many moms into the following tirade: “Why have you done this to me. You are selfish and without moral fiber.” Sarah was perceptive enough, however, to see that Lauren was already feeling great pain and remorse over her mistake. So after gathering her wits about her, Sarah used the dilemma at hand to teach her daughter about healthy problem solving and the power of unconditional love.

Sarah didn’t need my help — she had already dealt with the problem in a healthy way. She then took it a step further: Sarah helped her teen use the mistake to learn principles of critical importance.

You can allow yourself to find the benefits hidden within your mistakes, too.

The Hidden Benefits of Mistakes

  • Failures often lead us to successes. Becoming successful in life requires that we take risks, and risks often involve failure. Provided we chose to learn from them, our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.
  • Mistakes remind us that we are human. It is important to remember that we are fallible human beings. Errors get our attention in this way, and help us become more understanding of others’ foibles.
  • Blunders lead to personal growth and development. Humans tend to avoid growth and change. We prefer to stick with what’s familiar. Pain is the one experience that may encourage us to step out on a limb and try something different.

Although we can ultimately choose to benefit from our blunders, they can cause us great discomfort in the short term.

Maximize the Value of Your Mistakes

  • Acknowledge feelings of disappointment, loss and annoyance about your error. These feelings are normal and it is OK to allow yourself time to experience them.
  • Step back and put your error in perspective. Remember other mistakes you have made, and how you’ve gotten past them.
  • Think through your blunder and take some time to answer the following questions: What will you do differently in the future to avoid a similar mistake? What else have you learned from this experience? What possible silver lining can you find in this error?
  • Talk to a mentor or trusted friend about your mistake. Her moral support will prove invaluable. Better yet, maybe she’ll share some of her past gaffes, and you’ll both get a good laugh over the situation.
  • If your mistake has adversely impacted someone else, acknowledge it and sincerely apologize for it.
  • Where appropriate, let others know what you’ve learned from your mistakes. Your input may keep them from stepping into similar booby traps. It will also let them know that you are human.
  • Once you have taken the above steps, refuse to beat yourself up about your mistake. Continuing to ruminate about your “goof” will merely drain your energy and keep you from moving forward in a positive way.

Life’s mistakes cannot be erased. But with care and attention you can turn them into gifts, which will benefit you and those you love for a lifetime.

Make ‘Successful’ Mistakes

Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP

APA Reference
Purcell, M. (2020). Make ‘Successful’ Mistakes. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.