After a little small talk about the weather and my family we dined leisurely, lingering over our send cup of tea. "Irwin, my boy, do you ever make mistakes when you write or when you cook?" "Of course I do! I struggle and make mistakes just like every other frog...and probably every other human, too," I replied. I was a little stunned by the question because Dharma knows better than anyone how upset I get when I make a mistake. But that was exactly his point; he has seen first-hand the aftermath of my failures. "Little One, a frog's mistakes should be his teacher, not his attacker. We all make mistakes every day, some large and some small. We let our failures attack us. We don't see them as the awesome learning opportunities they are meant to be. But our mistakes and failures are really gifts, hidden gems that, if we let them, can be guideposts in our learning and growth as frogs (people, too!). We need to learn to embrace them and see them for what they offer us, not for what we think they take from us." And with that Dharma listed a bunch of awesome lessons, or gifts, we can learn from or mistakes and perceived failures. And here's his list:
Lesson/Gift 1. Mistakes teach us to clarify what we really want and how we want to live. The word mistake only derives its meaning in comparison to what we desire; what we see as success. Admitting our mistakes allows us to get back in touch with our commitments - what we want to be, do, and have. Mistakes are a wake-up call, kind of like a flashing neon sign that reads, Fix This! This urgency causes us to focus on issues or problems that make us feel ''off track" somehow. We can then work on possible solutions, redefining what we want or expect. This, ultimately, leads to better clarity on our path.
Lesson/Gift 2. Mistakes teach us to accept ourselves and be flawed, and still be loved. Like most humans, we frogs also have a long history of putting ourselves down when we blow it. But it's a self-defeating habit that we must break so that we can learn to appreciate ourselves, mistakes and all. It is possible, with a little effort and patience, to laugh at our failings, then work hard to correct them. Perfection is not what makes us beautiful or unique or special. It's our imperfections that we're most loved for. Hard to believe, I know, but just ask someone who loves you why they do. You'll see Dharma is right.
Lesson/Gift 3. Mistakes teach us to accept our fallibility and face our fears. I don't care who you are, sometimes our best efforts just don't work out. No one is exempt. Often, we fail time and time again, before we do get it right. When we get stuck, it often brings us to the heart of our fears. Yet when we muster up the courage to face those fears, they will often disappear. When we admit that we're stuck and can't do it alone, doors seem to open and the right people, resources, and solutions magically appear. And all we need to do is ask for help.
Lesson/Gift 4. Mistakes teach us about ourselves and how to tell our truth. It seems natural to want to cover up or hide our mistakes...and to be embarrassed by them. We'd all love to have a handy mistake-eraser. But we know those don't exist. Admitting to our mistakes and failures gives us the opportunity to practice telling the truth. Truth telling allows us to expand our sense of self - to better know who we are. This, in return, increases our capacity for change. It's kind of like holding up a mirror that lets us really see who we are and what we're made of. Letting go of of shame, blame, and embarrassment, allows us to concentrate on learning and growing. Isn't that what life is really all about?
Lesson/Gift 5. Mistakes teach us, through analysis and feedback, what works and what doesn't. Mistakes are a reality check. When we experience the consequences, we get a very clear message about our efforts; which ones work and which ones do not. Often, we can trace mistakes back to a recurring patterns of belief or behavior. These are the things we say, or do, over and over that simply don't work. Yet we continue to do them anyway. There are important lessons here; ask yourself these three questions; "What can I learn from this experience?" "What can I do differently next time?" "How will I be different in the future?" There's an opportunity for real change here that's disguised as a failure.
Lesson/Gift 6. Mistakes teach us to take responsibility. Instead of blaming others or outside circumstances, it can be empowering and uplifting to see our role in the mistake. Investigating our role is a good reminder of how our choices and our actions impact us and the life we're trying to create.
Lesson/Gift 7. Mistakes teach us about integrity. Many of our mistakes happen when we over-commit ourselves, break promises, agree to something just to avoid conflict, or when we don't listen carefully. Choices that run counter to our values and goals can, over time, accumulate into breakdowns. Mistakes can often signal that our words and actions are out of alignment with each other. Then it's time to examine them both and make any necessary changes.
Lesson/Gift 8. Mistakes teach us to fully engage in our lives. We are not our behaviors nor are we our mistakes. Our past history does not have to predict our future. Each day is a new beginning, an opportunity to begin anew. Without risk, there can be no reward.
Lesson/Gift 9. Mistakes allow us to inspire others. When we are open about our struggles, it encourages others to be brave and follow suit. They can learn from our mistakes. Teaching others, especially children, that it's okay to fail is one of the most powerful and valuable gifts we can give to anyone.
I always see Dharma's lessons as gifts even when they're not fun "to open." Life is messy. Nobody ever said it wasn't. But we can take a lot of the sting out of it, if we learn to see our mistakes as friends and not enemies. After Dharma left this morning, I sat down with pen and paper in hand. and began to list the things that I've recently done that I consider failures. This way I can better analyze what happened and learn from these mistakes. Irwin Quagmire Wart is a work in progress. And I want to be the best version, a 4.0 version if you will, that I can be. And to do that, I must accept my mistakes and failures and grow from them. And that's a pretty awesome gift, at all!