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The value of making mistakes

Published June 29. 2013 09:03AM

In a recent column I invited readers to share the life lessons they would pass on to others.

As always, I had some interesting reader responses.

One thing that surprised me is that three different readers talked about life's mistakes.

Robert Krenicky shared his response with this email:

"I'm 62 and have worked in all aspects of residential construction. Two weeks ago a young man asked me to assist him in understanding how to measure and layout a granite countertop when the walls and cabinets do not form a perfect square. I demonstrated for him how to determine the angle and measurement for nonperpendicular segments. We then cut a template that produced a snug fit for the top all around its perimeter. He inquired how I learned to do this. My reply was, "I have made every possible mistake more than once."

I think that's a nice way of reminding a student we learn by doing - and we also learn from mistakes.

Another reader, who also said she has made plenty of mistakes, expressed her life's lesson in this way:

"Everyone makes mistakes in life. Don't sit there beating yourself up for the serious mistakes you have made. I did this for too many years. You can't change the past but you can work on changing your future."

A mother of three also wrote to talk about the value of making mistakes.

"It's true when they say there are no mistakes. There are only lessons," she wrote.

"What you have to be willing to do is to let your children make mistakes. That will teach them important lessons and help them grow," she said.

I think she's right about that. I also agree with her that most parents will do anything to help their children avoid mistakes.

Even at my age I have a hard time sitting back and letting any family member (or friend, for that matter) make decisions that I view as mistakes.

If I truly care about someone I think is about to step into quicksand, I speak up, saying I'm only offering advice. But truth be told, I need to get out of that habit. I'm working on it.

The more lessons I learn in life, the more I know I still have a lot to learn.

I guess that's why they say every life is a work in progress.

Linda Koehler, my dear friend and fellow columnist, says her words of wisdom are: "Count your blessings every day. Even if you can only come up with one, it may very well be one more than many have in this world."

Here's a related truism from a former military wife:

"Make sure you know a blessing when you see one."

When her husband got transferred to a new town, she said she hated the place from the first moment she saw it.

She lived far away from her family and resented the fact that she had to miss every important family function, just to live in a miserable place she hated.

"My husband kept telling me I had to get out and make friends and make a place for myself in our new community. I had no friends, but I blamed it on the town, not on my lack of effort," she wrote.

When her husband had a health crisis, others rallied round them. "I learned there were some truly wonderful women who would make a good friend - if I gave them a chance."

She says she wished she would have learned that lesson long ago instead of wasting years feeling sorry for herself.

I have a good friend who believes it's a wise person who can look back at life and realize he or she made mistakes.

"That clear vision is a gift," she says. "It means you can go on, benefiting from your mistakes by living life differently."

The kind of person she wants to avoid, she says, is someone who never admits to making a mistake.

Maybe that's why she likes me so much - I'm open about my mistakes and my mistaken attitude.

As I sat in church this morning, my mind wandered as it often does when the sermon is disjointed and long winded with no discernable theme.

My mind wandered to a book I'm reading called: "Praying for Your Adult Sons and Daughters."

Instead of praying for your adult child to change, the authors had this age-old piece of advice: "Change yourself instead. You are the only person you have the power to change. Change your attitude toward the situation."

I think that may also come under the category of allowing others the freedom to follow their own judgment.

A long time ago I covered a class in the Lehigh Valley where a noted psychologist was sharing surprising ways to reduce stress.

"When it comes to others, stop using the words 'could have' or 'should have,'" the psychologist said. "That's a judgment you have no right to make about someone else's life. Your unmet expectations put stress on you and on someone else."

Well, I'm working on that problem, too.

I'm working on eliminating the words "should have" and "could have" from my thought process.

But I've been working on it for years and I still have a long way to go.

Why do some of life's lessons take so long to learn?

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