“Mistakes” are excellent opportunities to learn



From an early age we are taught that mistakes are wrong. Something to be avoided at all costs. Our education system is designed to punish those who dare make mistakes or fail. We grow to fear failure and avoid it like the plague; to the extent that we’d rather tell little lies than admit to any mistakes or failures. We try to project this perfect image of ourselves and our businesses – no mistakes here, all is wonderful. “Oh no, I’ve never failed at business” or “my business runs smoothly – we don’t make mistakes here”. Mistakes are BAD.

No, they are not! Not all bad, at least. Each “mistake” or failure is merely an opportunity to learn. It would be a mistake not to learn from it though. Don’t fear failure – treat it as “study time”. Wasn’t it Edison who said he didn’t fail – he merely found 10 000 ways it didn’t work? Get rid of your negative connotations with regards to failure. Shine a positive light on it.

And the lessons we learn from our mistakes can often prove very helpful much later in our business careers. The impact can have a profoundly positive effect on all our business dealings in the future. Personally, I have learned many lessons from my business mistakes over the years.

I was in my mid-teens and running my (by then) third business which was to provide vegetable hampers to people in the neighbourhood. I would take orders during the week from people in the area and go to the market early on the Saturday morning to buy all the veggies. After packaging each order, I would start my delivery round and by late Saturday afternoon have a healthy profit to show for my work. All went well until I arrived one afternoon to make a delivery. The lady decided to no longer take the veggie hamper: “Sorry kid, I won’t need it this week” she said. I was speechless – she only placed her order on Thursday – what had changed? Then I had to figure out what to do with the cabbage, carrots and all the rest of the veggies I was now stuck with. This happened to me twice that same day!

On that day, I learned a few lessons. It changed my attitude to business and money. I have learned to discuss terms right at the start of a deal, not at delivery time. (In fact, from the very next week, I would only accept an order with full payment upfront). I have learned to speak my mind and stand up for what I believe in (I didn’t even try to argue my point with that lady all those years ago – I meekly accepted the financial loss). And I have learned that not everyone keeps their word.

Lots of life and business lessons for a 14/15-year old, but each of those lessons have helped shape me into the business person I am today. And most of all, I learnt to learn from mistakes. That was the most important lesson of all.


Tiana Wilson-Buys is a “Get Stuff Done” Business Coach and Productivity Strategist. She offers a free 10-Day Time-Saving Tactics programme via e-mail which you can find here.