On Fighting Old Mistakes and Welcoming New Ones

I am finally at the point in my life where I can look back with some objectivity. I’ve done things that I’m immensely proud of.  I’ve created events and institutions that are still running even after I’ve left that position.

I’ve also made mistakes. Plenty of them. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve fallen down. But the trick is to get up, wipe the metaphorical (or literal) blood from your nose and the dust from your pants, and then keep moving forward.

One quote that I tell my private voice students and my choirs is this: Never make old mistakes; only make new ones.

Now, on the face of it, this truism might seem simplistic. And it is. But it assumes a few things.

1) It assumes that you will make mistakes.

Making mistakes is inevitable. You will mess up. You will hurt friends and fail them in ways that you didn’t know that you could. You will get fired from that job, and it might even be your fault. You will bomb that test, show up late to that interview, and waste that money on what you thought was a sure thing. This will happen. I know that it will because it happens to everybody. You aren’t special.

2) It assumes that you often keep making the same mistakes.

This, for me, is the most frustrating part of the whole bit. It’s one thing to make a mistake. It is another thing to make the same mistake multiple times. How many times can you be late for work because you overslept? How many times can you double-book yourself for a gig? How many times can you selfishly choose to spend time and money on yourself when your friend is in need?

These are our blind spots—the problems in our lives that are of our own making, our sins and foibles. And yet we repeat them ad nauseum.

3) It assumes that we can stop making these mistakes.

This is the difficult part of this statement. It forces us to attack those sins and habits that continually rear their ugly heads. We must take proactive steps to ensure that we don’t repeat and repeat and repeat them. In lessons and rehearsals, I tell my singers to mark the mistake with a pencil. Double/triple/quadruple underline it. Circle it. Whatever it takes. Write reminders to not miss that note or rhythm.

Lasting change and personal growth must be intentional.

4) It assumes that we will make new mistakes in the future.

This, too, is inevitable, and we must not fear it. Fear of failure is debilitating. It stops us from taking chances. It hamstrings us from achieving the things that we will only accomplish with persistent trial and error (read: everything new thing that we attempt to do).

So when you fall flat on your face, get back up. Own it. When you fail your friend, do whatever it takes to make it right. When you fail that interview, make sure you are more prepared for the next one. If you are always late for work, get up 10 minutes earlier or buy a second alarm clock. Learn from your mistakes, change yourself, and move on.

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