Want to read this blog on a plain white background?  Click here for The Upside to OOPS

The Upside to OOPS

So what would you tell your 18-year-old self if you could go back in time with the wisdom of your current now? That’s the question that was posed recently to dozens of women who came to the microphone to accept an Achievement in Business award at the Charlotte Convention Center.  The self-advice included light-hearted bon mots like “use sunscreen” and “no matter what he tells you, your boyfriend will be just fine after a cold shower.” But overwhelmingly, the advice to one’s young self centered around mistakes, as in “prepare to make a lot of them. Your mistakes, not your successes, will be far more valuable.”

It’s easier in hindsight to embrace our screw ups: we see that in fact the world did NOT end because we missed a deadline or lost a case or walked up on stage with toilet paper stuck to our shoe. But at the moment of the mistake, or in the dreadful aftermath, it really can feel like we’ll never recover from the shame or regret we’ve brought upon ourselves.

Yes, there are some mistakes that feel unforgivable, the ones that hurt others or set off a chain of catastrophic events. Those blunders require a different kind of atonement. But for the garden variety mistakes that we make every day, here are four reasons to see them as the blessings they are.


The desire to be mistake-proof is really part of an underlying need to be perfect and beyond reproach, a need that is impossible to fulfill. Mistakes make us more authentic, more sympathetic, and frankly, a lot more interesting. Have you ever had to endure someone blathering on about their perfect decorating scheme, their perfect children, their perfect marriage?  Perfect is boring (and delusional).


When mistakes are really big ones – like destroying a relationship you value (your marriage, your children, your colleagues) – it can feel impossible to overcome the remorse and grief that defines the aftermath. But instead of crying “Why did I do that?!” it’s better to say, “There is something here I’m supposed to learn. What is it?” Be humble, be open, even if you don’t like what you learn. Ignoring the lesson almost guarantees you’ll have to endure it again.


Screw-ups teach us what NOT to do next time.  Sometimes it’s even the Universe’s way of saving us from a more ruinous failure down the road. Learn from mistakes, but don’t be afraid to keep making them (new ones, that is. Making the same mistake over and over again is a sure sign you’re not paying attention…to anything.)


Most people are extra motivated to do something well after they’ve messed it up the first time. Mistakes then, inspire us to improve. They’re like little life coaches without the fees!

Mistakes have other benefits, too.  They make great stories and they remind us not to take ourselves so seriously.  Still not convinced?  Here’s some wisdom from people you may recognize:

Thomas Edison:  “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Albert Einsten: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Buddha: “There are only two mistakes one can make on the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.”

Sophia Loren: “Mistakes are  part of the dues that one pays for a full life.”

And my personal favorite by an unacknowledged source:  “I never make the same mistake twice. I repeat it five or six times, just to be sure.”


What about you?  What’s the advice you would give your 18-year-old self if you could go back in time?


  1. Arcangela Mazzariello said...

    I would tell my 18 year old self to enjoy the journey. That the rest of my life would be a long time and not to try to rush the being grown up process. I just had this conversation with a young woman who just turned 18. She was a cashier at Michael’s and was gushing about her 18th birthday and how she couldn’t wait till she was 21. I tried to tell her to enjoy being 18. This brings me to the other thing I would tell myself. LISTEN to the older women and the knowledge and experience they are trying to impart. What anguish we could be soared! Just as I didn’t listen, this newly formed 18 year old wouldn’t listen. I think listening rather then hearing might have made a difference.

    Comment posted on June 5, 2014 at 9:51 am

  2. Janice said...

    So you’re saying our mothers really DID know what they were talking about? Imagine that! I remember when my step son turned 21 I told him “Welcome to adulthood, it basically sucks.” A few years later he conceded I was right.

    Comment posted on June 5, 2014 at 10:50 am

  3. Ken Caputo said...

    Good take on this, Janice. My advice to 18 year old self would be – avoid at all costs the safe path. Don’t be afraid to get out there and find the thing that you love and pursue it. If it doesn’t work out you are young enough to try something else. In hindsight, the early years is the time to begin to spread your wings and develop a tolerance for risk. Always remember, you only go around once…

    Comment posted on June 5, 2014 at 3:06 pm

  4. Janice said...

    Good advice, Ken. There’s a saying: “You only go around once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

    Comment posted on June 5, 2014 at 3:27 pm

  5. Susan Woodward said...

    Well said, as always, Janice. What would I tell myself at 18? Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.

    I suspect I didn’t pay enough attention, thus made the same mistake a few times. I think I’ve got it right now, but it’s taken 72 years!


    Comment posted on June 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must enter your name, a properly formatted email address, and a comment.

Your name is required!

Your email address is required!

You must enter a comment!