“A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” Alexander Pope

What a wonderful way to acknowledge a mistake without getting stuck in shame. Shame is fueled by beliefs that we should be perfect and that mistakes are a sign of weakness.These perceptions neglect to understand that the power of humans comes from having brains which learn from trial and error. An article I’ve often shared with those who struggle with their perfectionism underscores the “blessings of imperfection”. For example, we would never have penicillin if a scientist had not made a mistake and left a Petri dish open.

If we truly hold ourselves accountable, we learn from our mistakes. This is an inherent part of being a human being, with the ability to hold both the past and present in our minds and to think things through.

We often make one of two errors around our mistakes.

  1. We take it as a sign we are bad, stupid, dumb, or any other pejorative term. Instead of benefiting from new awareness, shame becomes a garment that weighs us down. If this sounds like you, start a practice of beginning each day anew, looking for any lessons, and allowing the new day to be informed by what you’ve learned. Label behavior as in error, not yourself or another person.
  2. We become defensive and blame others for our mistake.  We get caught up in having to protect ourselves and allow valuable lessons to bounce off us. This is the other side of the coin that labels mistakes and errors as shameful. However, instead of acknowledging ourselves as shameful, we lash out at others or deny their perceptions. If you see this in yourself, the cure is similar – begin the practice of looking for lessons instead of defending yourself. However, add in developing the muscles of “fessing up” to your errors. Look for what you can do differently in the future. Being able to do this offers freedom and the possibility of enhancing your connections to others.

Wisdom is not something we are born with. We develop it over time. And we do that when we open ourselves to looking at our behavior and learning from it.



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