Mistakes: Real or Illusion?


“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change." Wayne Dyer

The dictionary defines ‘mistake’ as “an action or judgement that is misguided or wrong.” Nobody wants to make a mistake; nobody wants to be ‘wrong’.  Indeed many of my clients want to move forward in their life in some way and are paralyzed by the idea that they might make a mistake or the wrong choice.  Here’s something to consider:  what if it’s impossible to make a mistake; that the idea of ‘mistake’ is merely an illusion?

We’ve all heard the story of Thomas Edison ‘failing’ 10,000 times on the way to inventing the lightbulb.  Did he make 10,000 mistakes or was success a 10,000 step process?  As in life, your perspective determines whether you view Edison as failing or succeeding. If Edison perceived the process as a series of mistakes, perhaps he would have been disheartened and given up long before finding the filament that worked.

Life is the same.  Thinking that you made a mistake leads to pain, suffering, guilt and shame.  It keeps you stuck and focussed on the past.  However, a mere shift in perspective changes everything.  Let go of the idea that you could make a ‘mistake’ and instead view each outcome as feedback.  Life is all about learning and evolving your being towards greater states of love and consciousness.  Be clear about what I’m saying.  I’m not giving you license to behave in any way you want and feel fine about it.  Every thought, word or action has a consequence -- an experience -- and every experience generates feedback to help you learn and grow.  From this perspective, mistakes are an illusion.

When people talk about making a mistake, what they usually mean is that they didn’t like the result or outcome of their choice, decision or action.  I consider this to be very different from making a mistake.  Making a mistake implies that you did something ‘wrong’; that you should have done something different or made a different choice.  But it’s impossible since the choice was made in the past; you can’t go back.  Thinking you made a ‘mistake’ really means you are judging yourself as wrong in hindsight - often based solely on the result.  In the moment where life exists -- now -- mistakes cannot happen.  You choose thoughts, words and actions and then you experience an outcome. Choices are neither right or wrong; they are made and then certain outcomes and consequences flow as a result.

How do mistakes work in life?

I like to include a story in my article to illustrate my point, so I began to think about something I considered to be a mistake in my life.  For days I wracked my brain trying to come up with an example.  I truly couldn’t think of anything. To be clear, I’m not saying that all of my choices resulted in fabulous, wonderful outcomes; far from it!  However, in my pondering it finally dawned on me that every thought, word and action I have ever chosen has led me to where I am today.  In that sense, if I think I made a mistake along the way, that would mean I would have to judge where I am now as wrong.  I am where I am. How could where I am now be wrong? To say that I shouldn’t be here is to suggest some alternate path was already pre-destined for me.  I don’t think so.  I’m here because this is where the sum of my thoughts and actions led me.

I have a friend who is unhappy with her life.  She thought that happiness and ‘success’ was to be found in the world of work and so she concentrated all her energies on her career.  Now in her forties, she really regrets her choice.  While her career is going spectacularly well, she has no husband and no kids.  She felt extremely sad, and she cried as she told me of her regret and the ‘mistake’ she had made.  She also said something very interesting, “I’m sure I would have been happier if I had had a family.”  Really?  According to whom?  How could she know?

The truth is, she wasn’t comparing her current life to the reality of her life had she married and had kids. Instead, she was comparing it to her fantasy (or illusion) of what she imagined her life would have been like and how she imagined she would have felt.  There is no way she could know the challenges, difficulties and joys of being married and a parent, much less know she would have felt happier.  Yet she was utterly convinced of it, until I asked her one question, “how do you know?” That one simple question revealed the illusion.  It snapped her out of her imagined fantasy.

It seems to be a bit of a human tendency to project or assume the best outcome from a choice we didn’t make and compare it to the outcome that did manifest, particularly if the outcome is not pleasant or what we wanted.  And it is from this tendency that the idea of ‘mistakes’ is born.

If mistakes are an illusion, what is real?

I recently heard a speaker talk about ‘finding your path’.  The concept made no sense to me.  How could your path possibly exist separate from you? Life is a journey and you create your path with every thought, every decision and every action you take.  What may seem like a mistake, can, I guarantee, be a valuable learning experience if you so choose.  The good news is that you have control over your perspective. You can choose to learn from the experience, beat yourself up for the outcome or blame someone else.  Only one of these choices will lead to happiness, fulfillment and contentment.

Here’s what’s real.  Imagine you are standing in a spot with infinite possible paths in front of you.  Now look behind you and notice the path that led you here.  Notice how all of the twists and turns have brought you to this moment, standing right where you are as you read this article. This is where you are ‘meant’ to be.  This is your path.  How do I know?  Because it is where you are!

Now that you are aware, you can begin to carve your path more consciously.  The more consciously you make your choices and decisions, the more influence you have on the direction your life will take.  If you don’t like the direction your path is headed, you can change it.

So, what if a choice you make results in an outcome you don’t want?  You learn from your experience and make a different choice.  You try again.  Like Thomas Edison, you continue to try new ‘filaments’ in your life and see what happens. Rather than spend time and energy beating yourself up over a decision you made, you can take the learning and leave the rest behind.

If you're frozen and afraid of moving forward for fear of making a mistake, then take a breath and know that you can't make a mistake. Any action you take will give you feedback upon which you can reflect and then choose again.

Looked at in this way, seemingly ‘bad’ experiences can lead to invaluable and powerful personal growth.  Numerous people have said that cancer, car accidents and even death of a loved one, was the ‘best’ thing that ever happened to them.  Are they saying that they liked the experience?  No. They are saying that they learned from the experience and were changed forever.  Perhaps they discovered talents, skills and gifts within themselves they didn’t know existed.  I truly believe that the tremendous amount of compassion I now have is a result of healing the abuse I experienced in my childhood.

Starting now, I invite you to reexamine your life from this new perspective.  Consider the things you thought were mistakes and, in light of this new awareness, see if you can discover the learning you gained from the experience.  How did you grow from it?  What was the hidden gift?  Remember to activate the Divine Feminine gifts of openness, receiving and compassion and be gentle with yourself.

Now, go forth knowing that mistakes are merely an illusion.  When you feel called to action in some way but are afraid of making a mistake, take heart and take a chance. Be open to the consequences, learn from the experience and then choose again and blossom into the beauty and magnificence of YOU!