Mistakes Are Our Gateway to Self-Discovery

Written by on July 11, 2016 in Accountability, Self-Awareness



There are two undeniable truths about mistakes …

  1. We all make them.
  2. We do our best to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible.

By their very nature mistakes are a mixed bag. For example, there are the mistakes we make in our drive to achieve goals and dreams, those that come about as a result of lack of knowledge or experience, and then there are those that are destined to be repeated again and again because we keep ignoring the lesson.

So who can blame us for wanting to quickly put our missteps behind us?! After all, it’s hard enough not to fall into the trap of beating ourselves up over our stumbles, but there is also the need to avoid the discomfort of being embarrassed or judged by others.

While it makes sense not to dwell unnecessarily on mistakes, if we’re able to muster the courage to take our discomfort and the opinions of others out of the equation, it’s much easier to see that mistakes help us to become more aware of ourselves and areas that need our attention.

In the end, the point is not that you made a mistake, but rather what you chose to make of it. Mistakes have the potential to provide invaluable opportunities for self-discovery and growth, especially if you are able to take what you’ve learned and then share it with others.

Reflections on the Lessons of Mistakes

  • The worst mistakes I make in my life by far are when I say YES when I really want to say NO. ~Author Unknown
  • No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. ~Tony Robbins
  • You can’t make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a choice. ~Author Unknown
  • I admit I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but those who can only see me for what I was, for the mistakes I’ve made in the past, don’t belong in my future. ~Author Unknown
  • I sometimes react to making a mistake as if I have betrayed myself. My fear of making a mistake seems to be based on the hidden assumption that I am potentially perfect and that if I can just be very careful I will not fall from heaven. But a ‘mistake’ is a declaration of the way I am, a jolt to the way I intend, a reminder I am not dealing with the facts. When I have listened to my mistakes I have grown. ~Hugh Prather
  • Admitting your mistakes does not diminish your strength: it shows your courage. ~Erin Andrews
  • Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make them all yourself. ~Eleanor Roosevelt
  • There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. ~Buddha
  • Don’t carry your mistakes around with you. Instead, place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them. ~Author Unknown
  • In life we do things, some we wish we had never done. Some we wish we could replay a million times in our heads, but they all make us who we are and in the end those experiences every detail about us. If we were to reverse any of them, we wouldn’t be at the exact place we are today. So just live. Make mistakes and have wonderful times but never second guess who you are, where you have been and most importantly where it is that you are going. ~Author Unknown
  • More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them. ~Harold Smith
  • Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition, there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes. ~Author Unknown
  • Everyone makes mistakes. If you can’t forgive others, don’t expect others to forgive you. ~Author Unknown

Permission to Make Mistakes


What’s your story? Do you have an example of an important lesson you’ve learned from a mistake you’d be willing to share with us? Love to hear from you, so please consider contributing to the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Related reading:
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.

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  1. Tracy

    I have found that some of my mistakes are largely what have shaped my career path. I could have let these mistakes hold me back, but I’ve actually let it guide my next level of education. It seemed difficult at the time, but I have leveraged each setback to gain a step forward in my job. I encourage others to set the emotional aspect aside after awhile and use it to make them stronger. Thank you for sharing!
    Tracy recently posted…Is Perfectionism Holding You Back?My Profile

  2. Sam Adeyinka

    You are welcome, Marquita! And you can be sure to keep seeing me around here. 🙂

  3. Well you surely are not the first person to repeat mistakes, Joan, we’ve all done it. The most important thing is that eventually figure it out and rather than beating ourselves up, determine to learn and grow from the experience. Thanks for taking the time to share. 🙂

  4. Welcome Sam! Thank you so much for your kind words and especially for taking the time to let me know you found value in my article!

  5. Hi Marquita 🙂

    Really enjoyed this post and I can totally relate to making mistakes lol

    I realize, that YES, I tend to make a few mistakes over and over again until I learn my lesson! Sometimes it is so hard to just stop making that same mistake lol Not sure WHY, I just do not learn the FIRST time, but hey I am human and I know eventually I will learn 🙂

    Great post!
    Joan M Harrington recently posted…Is Your Content Good Enough To Publish?My Profile

  6. Sam Adeyinka

    Hey madam Marquita (I don’t know why but I have falling in love with your name), You’ve got a very nice blog here and like Donna said on yoru Subscribe page, it’s a nice face lift you’ve given to the blog.:)

    Really, I love the way you made justice to the title of this post – mistakes, gateway to self discovery. I have made a lot of them and it’s purpose, persistence and positive (Sue did justice to it in her post that landed me here. 🙂 ) attitude that has stood me out from falling or quit fighting.

    We cannot in anyway hide from failings or making mistakes in life, they are prerequisite for achieving success. I cannot imagine this life without failure, it would have been boring, and yes, bore some of us to death. Matter of fact, there would have been no need for telling success stories…

    ma’am,the quotes you shared here are resourceful and I will use some of them in my copy to mail subscribers. Plus the pictures too!

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Keep sharing!

    Sam Adeyinka recently posted…Learn Authentic Ways to Make Money Online in 2016My Profile

  7. Glad you enjoyed the post Ikechi! 🙂

  8. So glad you enjoyed the quotations Erica, and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. 🙂

  9. That’s one of my favorite’s as well Emi, and I really like your decorating instructor’s advice! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  10. Well said, and thanks for contributing to the conversation Kathryn!

  11. Good observation Joyce. I do agree with an earlier comment about there being some holdover issues in this regard when it comes to making mistakes at work. I’ve worked places where everyone was very supportive of each other, and one in particular, that definitely went the opposite direction. Ultimately, it comes down to company culture and my personal belief is if you find yourself in one of those cut-throat environments, run, don’t walk, away as fast as possible! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Joyce. 🙂

  12. ikechi

    Hi Marquita

    You are so right about mistakes and I have always believed that they are golden nuggets that point us in the direction to succeed. They are great data points that help us solve problems.

    I love the quotes you have shared. Thank you for sharing your insight. Take Care

  13. Hi Marquita ,you have a nice collection of quotes here.
    I am with Joyce Hansen and Teresa Salhi here,what is called mistakes is a part of life. Mistakes are like signs on the way we go to find the right direction for us. It depends on where you live and the perception . I like the last sentences of Joyce : “Now, we have the freedom to look at mistakes as learning experiences/experiments. How wonderful to be relieved of all that guilt and negativity.” I wholeheartedly agree with her.
    Thank you for a post which makes us think

  14. Emi says:

    Hi Marquita,
    Love this article, so true! My favorite quote is:”No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. ~Tony Robbins.”
    As a cake decorating instructor I always tell my students that making mistakes is not as scary as they think, after all, all our mistakes are edible 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

  15. Hi Marquita
    Who hasn’t made mistakes? If you played life so carefully and never tried anything new maybe, but not me.
    I did as I wanted and sometimes my mistakes were life changing, and not for the better but they were my mistakes. I did learn from them. I am who I am today in spite of my mistakes. I would never want to say I am perfect but I am better than I was many years ago. Great article.

  16. Joyce Hansen

    It’s been interesting in watching this shift in consciousness about mistakes. We would have to live with the shame of our mistakes, hope no one would notice, and really hope no one would associate that mistake with us. It also seemed that it was someone’s job to remind us how we screwed up, no matter how long ago. Now, we have the freedom to look at mistakes as learning experiences/experiments. How wonderful to be relieved of all that guilt and negativity.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…Why the brain likes the Facebook like buttonMy Profile

  17. I’m with you Madonna. If fact, I prefer to think of my mistakes as “experiments” in my process of growing. 🙂

  18. I had to smile when I read your comment about how we are “so often in sync” because that seems to be true with many of us in the Women of Facebook group. I’m really glad you enjoyed the quotations and appreciate your taking the time to share Suzie! 🙂

  19. Ah yes, the wisdom of hindsight. Marvelous isn’t it? 🙂 While there are a few times I zigged instead of zagged, and I can’t help but occasionally wonder “what if” … overall I do feel that I’m right where I need to be. It’s funny about that permission slip. I found a small piece of paper one day on the counter at the post office with that message and it just resonated with me so I grabbed it and put it in my clipping file. You just never know when you’re going to find just the perfect opportunity to use these little pearls of wisdom the Universe sends you, huh? Thanks for stopping by Vatsala.

  20. So glad you enjoyed the quotations Beverley! As someone who also struggles with perfectionism, I can certainly relate to your point about being hard on yourself because you think you should have known better. I have burned through many (many!) pages in my journal working through such feelings. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  21. Well said Teresa. 🙂

  22. Those are some good quotes Sue! I appreciate it may sound a bit cliche, but I really do believe that we can’t really grow without making mistakes. That said, I also believe we need to periodically remind ourselves that all mistakes are not created equal. There’s a big difference between a mistake made as a result of lack of experience or knowledge and a mistake born from carelessness or stubbornly refusing to learn from the lessons of the past. The trick is being self-aware enough to know the difference. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  23. I’m so glad you enjoyed the quotations Reba. I confess I really enjoy the process of finding just the right insightful lessons for a topic and these offer some thoughtful reminders about putting mistakes into perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Madonna

    I have made my fair share of ‘mistakes’ although I rarely think of them that way any more. The list is great and will be sharing with my tribe who as yet all don’t share my opinion on mistakes being learning episodes.

  25. Suzie Cheel

    Love the quote from Buddha and tony Robbins and the one Sue shared. I am writing a post on a learning- That is what I am calling it this time- re my part of my rebranding that is not working and maybe I made the change to quickly- my impatience to move fast! So this is so timelt and will refer to this in my post thanks xx Love how we are so often in sync

  26. Vatsala Shukla

    When I look back at my life, Marquita, I know I’ve made lots of mistakes but none that I’ve regretted (said with the wisdom of hindsight 🙂 ) because I learned and never repeated those mistakes again. In fact, I charted out in a different direction altogether which has proven to be an adventure in itself.

    I love your Permission Slip to make Mistakes. We do need to cut ourselves some slack. I mean, we’re human, right?
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…The most important question before launching your businessMy Profile

  27. An amazing collection of quotes on ‘mistakes’, Marquita! I really love them and many of them really spoke to me. I’ve been known to be a self-perfectionist, so when I make a mistake, I can be very hard on myself. Especially if it is something I ‘think’ I should know already. It is a great lesson to stand back and be objective about our mistakes, then to choose to learn from them, rather than dwelling on why we made them. This is a great reminder to view our mistakes as a new way to learn…about the world around us and about ourselves. Wonderful lesson in being human. Thanks!
    Beverley Golden recently posted…The Beauty and Fascination of TimeMy Profile

  28. Teresa Salhi

    Mistakes are part of life and it really just comes down to our own perception of them. Allowing ourselves to experience and grow is vital to success.
    Teresa Salhi recently posted…New Discovery from a Self-Help JunkieMy Profile

  29. Sue Kearney says:

    There’s a Thomas Edison quote: I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

    And one from Einstein: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

    I like the Tony Robbins one you included: No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. Reminds me of John Maxwell’s “Failing Forward.” As long as I’m up, and present, and trying, I’m making progress toward my success.

    I like to remember that all the time, makes all the mistakes I make much easier to bear. 🙂
    Sue Kearney recently posted…Rebrand insights — they just keep coming!My Profile

  30. Reba Linker

    What a terrific collection of quotes on the topic, Marquita! I especially Buddha, Eleanor Roosevelt and Tony Robbin’s quotes. It is so important to move through our mistakes, learning rather than self-condemning. Somehow we have, as a culture, gotten a little off-track about mistakes, and these are great reminders to stay on the bright side.
    Reba Linker recently posted…Eyes of LoveMy Profile

  31. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and let me know you enjoyed the post Rosary!

  32. I agree with you point about Eleanor, I’ve been a fan of hers for many years. 🙂

  33. Yes, there is that perfection thing. I confess I struggle with that from time to time myself. 🙂

  34. Thanks for stopping by Janelle, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

  35. Beautifully said Jeri. I don’t have children but I imagine it to be even tougher, you know they need to fall off that bike to learn the lesson about how important it is to get back on, but you want so much to protect them. I wish you luck with your novel. I had that same itch for awhile, but I finally gave up when I finally had to admit to myself that I didn’t enjoy the process of writing fiction. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  36. Good point Sabrina, and there are probably a lot of people who would apply that logic to their marriages. Certainly, time does have a way of revealing truths, but the reality is that the more work you do to become self-aware, the less likely you are to repeat mistakes, especially in relationships. Most people are content to just ‘go with the flow’ and unfortunately, that’s how they end up with unpleasant surprises later in life. Thanks for sharing!

  37. Well said Donna. Sadly, that tendency toward denial creates a lot of stress and heartache in the long run. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation.

  38. Rosary says:

    I couldn’t agree more, making mistakes is part of being human. Instead of shying away from our mistakes we should learn from them so as not to make the same ones in the future. I really love all the quotes too! Great article =)

  39. Ken Dowell

    I’m sure you’ve encountered people for whom nothing ever seems to go wrong. It leads to an odd sort of naivete. Love the Eleanor Roosevelt quote by the way. I think the wrong person in that marriage ended up being president.
    Ken Dowell recently posted…American Pioneers of Amusement, Part 2: The Fearless Frogman, a Collector of Human Oddities and a Roller Coaster EngineerMy Profile

  40. Erica says:

    I really like the Eleanor Roosevelt quote.Too true.

    Of course we all make mistakes. If we don’t. then we are living in a protected bubble. You should expect to make mistakes. The times when I make more mistakes are also the times when more amazing things happen. I always try to remind myself of that when I’m trying to be perfect.
    Erica recently posted…Stop Your Feelings From Feeding Your WaistlineMy Profile

  41. Janelle says:

    Learning from mistakes is a great life lesson. There has been so many mistakes I had made in life and still learn from them. The quotes about mistakes makes great sense to why people can continue to make mistakes.

  42. Jeri

    I made the mistake of diving in to write a novel when my gut told me to work on some short stories and magazine articles for submission as the better way to get back in the writing habit. My gut also tells me too (since focusing on nonfiction writing in graduate school over a decade ago) that I have a greater pull to write true stories than imaginary ones. Still, I’m stubborn and want to write at least one novel. One of the hardest parts about teaching is how letting students make mistakes and learn from them is often viewed as a horrible blow to their self confidence. It’s one of the many reasons I left the classroom. If we don’t fall down, we can’t dust ourselves off. Mistakes allow us to put things in perspective and gain valuable insight by growing the field of comparisons we can make to possible outcomes and the path that led to certain outcomes.
    Jeri recently posted…#LitChat: Fatwa and Free Speech by Julia WhitmoreMy Profile

  43. Sabrina Quairoli

    I love the quotes. Especially, “You can’t make the same mistake twice. The second time you make it, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a choice. ~Author Unknown”.
    I think we make mistakes but then don’t realize they are mistakes until we have evolved enough to understand the mistake. That could take months or even years. If we would understand the mistake sooner, maybe we would be more likely to not repeat it.
    As always, thanks for making me think. =)

  44. Donna Janke

    I really like the Harold Smith quote about people being too busy denying their mistakes to learn from them. We don’t really want to face our imperfections. Maybe that’s why we “choose” to make the mistakes again.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Making a Difference at a Chocolate Cooperative in the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

  45. Glad you liked the post Mark. I really like that one about stepping stones as well, but I think my favorite is the one by Eleanor Roosevelt because I’ve always been such a fan of hers. Always appreciate kind words. 🙂

  46. I hear you RoseMary, some mistakes are much easier to set aside, or even laugh at, than others. I have a couple like that associated with my former husband. But you life, and if you work at it, you learn. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  47. Well said Phoenicia. I recall a few years ago when I was running a series of workshops and this one woman inevitably walked in 10 to 15 minutes late every time. She always had an excuse, but there was no doubt in my mind it was intentional because she didn’t just sneak in the back she made an ENTRANCE. Ah, people can really test us, huh? 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your thoughtful insights, always appreciated.

  48. Good point Vipin. Having a close circle of trusted friends (no matter how small) can really make a big difference in our life. Thanks for sharing and for your suggestion!

  49. You and me both girlfriend! In fact, I was pretty much a wild child when I was in my early 20’s and sometimes I wonder how I ever made it through that period alive. Ah, would not trade one minute of it though!!! Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation Donna, always appreciated. 🙂

  50. Mark

    This is another extremely insightful post M!

    First of all, let me say how much I enjoyed the quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, Erin Andrews, Harold Smith & Tony Robbins!

    They shared some extremely powerful insights, as your entire article has.

    And I sincerely hope, as one of the unknown authors pointed out, I too have learned, how to place my myriad mistakes under my feet, so they can become stepping stones, to a much better place!

    Thanks as always M, for sharing some incredibly powerful insights!
    Mark recently posted…Three Incredibly Simple Ways To Increase Retail Sales Without Spending More Money!My Profile

  51. I’m with Donna: Where can I begin to list my mistakes? Oh my, there’ve been some doozies. For too many years I allowed one moment to define many of my life choices. That moment was one forced upon me and it took a long time to realize I hadn’t chosen it and therefore could choose to move beyond it.
    When I finally did that, I felt better in control of my life.
    Of course, I still have all those other mistakes to laugh at myself over!
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Tenby – a delightful combo of the Cinque Terre and Charleston.My Profile

  52. Phoenicia

    Learning from our mistakes is so important. When we go off course by doing or saying the wrong thing, we should acknowledge this and aim to not to go down the same road again.

    I agree with the statement;
    “We do not make the same mistake twice. The second time is by choice”.

    Being sloppy is a choice. If we know we are forgetful then we must use apps in our phone to remind us of appointments. If we tend to arrive late – we must deliberately aim to arrive an hour earlier in order to be on time.

    There are only so many times we can say sorry. Action is required at some point – better sooner rather than later.

  53. Vipin T says:

    Self Discovery is really a great thing and it usually happens suddenly. Another way of self discovery is following Johari Window Model. By seeking feedback from people of your close circle, you can improve awareness about yourself. I really enjoy this subject. Shall be grateful if you keep writing more about it.

  54. Donna Merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    Wow…I do have so many lessons I made by mistake I don’t even know where to begin. But that’s the point. As long as we don’t ruminate or use the mistake as an excuse not to grow forward, then it becomes a problem.

    I do think the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life was to spend so many years with low self esteem. But when it got so emotionally draining, I went out and got some help. I just didn’t want to live that way.

    Giving myself that gift of therapy in my late twenties was the best thing I ever did.

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Build Your Business With eBook MarketingMy Profile

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