Extraordinary People Love Mistakes: Really!

By: Robert White Thursday August 8, 2013 comments

Three years ago I “enjoyed” the experience of finally doing something about my deteriorating knee – which has prevented some exercise (definitely not good for me!) and some fun (having my first “ski free” winter in sixteen years).       

Over twenty years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People, a great book with a great title!  Along those same lines, in this article I’ll share my perspective on mistakes – personal and professional – and the choices we have with what we do with them.

“Yes” and “No” …

Or, how to avoid mistakes while cutting on Robert’s leg

not this legYes, my pre-operative nurse Ann was attractive, intelligent, articulate and obviously committed to doing a great job at preparing me for my recent surgery.  No, I was not especially enjoying the ride – this was not my idea of a great activity at 6:30 AM on a cold Colorado morning.

I had trouble skiing the previous season and my ability to run and especially to climb stairs had steadily eroded … a by-product of my misspent youth and some age related deterioration.  It was time to stop procrastinating and get it fixed.  I was prepared, ready, committed and “in action.”

Then I noticed that Ann was writing on my legs – both of them – with very bright fluorescent purple ink.  When she wished me well and then left, I pulled aside the sheet and there on my right leg (location of the “good knee”) was the large word “NO”.

One the left knee (the “bad knee”) was clearly written “YES”.

I laugh a lot when I’m nervous and afraid so I laughed.  Then I started to think and this was my conclusion:  “They would only do this in response to prior problems where they mistakenly operated on someone’s good knee!”  This was not confidence building for your humble scribe.

Then I thought some more and came to a grudging acceptance that, compared to the alternative of them screwing up with the only good knee I had, I’d prefer they write notes of guidance and warning to themselves even if the writing surface was …… ME.

And then …. since I obviously had nothing else to do, I thought about the meeting they must have had following some kind of mistake – either at that surgical facility or a similar one – where someone owned up to operating on the wrong leg.  There were probably some uncomfortable silences and then someone asked “how can we make certain this doesn’t happen again?”

What followed was probably some brainstorming and then the brilliant idea, “I know, let’s write ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the appropriate legs in pre-op!”

What I like to imagine NOT happening was a lot of conversation blaming others or themselves for the original mistake – just a simple “I/we did it and don’t want it to happen again.”  Hopefully there also was little hand-wringing and projecting what the consequences might be and all those other go-nowhere conversations.

While being wheeled into the operating room (colder than being on Aspen Mountain at 9 AM in January), it occurred to me that learning to recover from a mistake is a key life attitude and skill set.  After all, we all make mistakes and if we’re “up to something in life,” especially something extraordinary, we’re probably taking some risks and making a lot of mistakes. 

Mistakes are, ultimately, the richest possible environment for valuable personal and professional learning and growth.  The key to gaining value from them is in how we frame our “next steps”, and I’ll make some specific suggestions in our Extraordinary Living Action Steps

….. so read on …..

 unconditional leadership


Extraordinary Wisdom Quotes

“It's all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again.  Just be sure to flush when you are done.”

Unknown source

“If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.”


There are no only mistakes only lessons.  Growth is a process ofvtrial and error: experimentation.  The "failed" experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately "works".

A lesson is repeated until learned.  A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it.  When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.

“Learning lessons does not end.  There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons.  If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.”

Sathya Sai Babba

Extraordinary Living Action Steps

Extraordinary people welcome and even embrace their mistakes – they’re an indication you’re alive and cookin’.

Learn something from the experience.  Use a trusted outside source – your mastermind group or significant other or a dear friend – to examine what really happened and to assist you in identifying the lessons and value to you.

WRITE IT DOWN.  Write what you learned and even share it with those in your life who will help hold you to new, more effective future choices and behaviors.  (editor’s note:  include Robert White in this?)

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably made some mistakes and want to be more effective “post event.”  If so, and if some vicarious learning from some of my mistakes might be valuable to you, just e mail me with the word “mistakes” in the subject line and I’ll send you what I wrote down after making some serious and expensive mistakes with my prior company.  Some of it might be so unique to me that it is not useful – I’m fairly certain some will be valuable to anyone dealing with leadership in business.

Second finally … and with apologies for not being able to find the original of this story I heard years ago in a film by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (author of The Power of Positive Thinking).

He related how a parishioner had come to him complaining of “so many problems.”  Dr. Peale asked if he’d like to meet a large group of people who had no problems.  He agreed and they proceeded to a huge cemetery where Dr. Peale proclaimed, “there they are, thousands of people with no problems and actually the ONLY people without problems.”

It seems to me the story applies to mistakes also.  If you’re alive, you’re going to make mistakes …. so celebrate and learn from them!

extraordinary life

Robert White

About the Author: Robert White

Robert White is a Speaker, Author, Leadership Trainer and Executive Mentor who teaches the art and science of mastering executive challenges. He specializes in integrating a heart centered, result-oriented and transformational leadership approach to being effective. His experience includes founding and leading companies doing high-impact experiential learning events with over one million graduates.

Robert’s culture change work has been praised by corporations like JPMorganChase, Progressive Insurance, Duke Energy and The American Cancer Society.

Additionally top business experts and authors Ken Blanchard, Jimmy Calano, Kathy Gardarian, and Robert Wright, plus thousands of training and mentoring clients, have endorsed his professional knowledge and skills.

Robert authored the best-seller “Living an Extraordinary Life” available in English and Mandarin. He is a contributing author to “Being Fuller” a compilation from students of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller and “One World, One People,” a photo journal of mankind’s journey to oneness.

Today you’ll find him speaking at conferences, hosting masterminds, mentoring today’s emerging business leaders and teaching everything he knows about fostering entrepreneurial success and building an entrepreneurial mindset in established, growth-oriented companies.

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