Learn from Your Mistakes and Your Success


That which does not kill us makes us stronger. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Writing job notesWhen you make a mistake, note well. Our failures are our best teachers, if only we pay attention in class. It is not possible to avoid mistakes unless you are already dead, so try to embrace them for the learning opportunities they offer. Accept that they are being cruel in the short term to be kind in the long term. Forgive yourself for making this mistake, and congratulate yourself for learning from it. Hopefully Friedrich Nietzsche was right and it will make you stronger.

To err is human, to forgive divine. – Alexander Pope

Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

When I started college in 2002, I was working full time as a Quality and Test Engineer for Sun Microsystems. Because I was working from home, and had flexible hours, I imagined it was feasible to do 37.5 hours work and 27 hours of lectures – 64.5 hours a week in total. After all, I had often worked 70 hour weeks, and when I was IT manager at Cobalt had done so for nearly a full year. This would only be for 12 weeks at a time during the two college semesters. Surely I’d be able to manage that!

Well, the truth is that I did manage it, but I gave neither my work, nor my studies the full attention that either deserved. So results for both were poor. I scraped through my first year exams, and my performance at work was mediocre for the first time in my career. Somehow I managed to avoid being made redundant in Sun’s second round of layoffs. In spite of the poor results however, I thoroughly enjoyed the year, because I was learning new and exciting stuff, and was stimulated and energized by the change. The excitement of the new career possibility overcame my tiredness.

My 28 classmates, who were on average half my age (most of them were 18 and I was 36), were a great group of young people who quickly became like a family. Many were the hours spent in Smokey Joes café, with most of the class squeezed around a table, furiously scribbling up our lab reports, or just laughing at the post mortems of their previous nights night-clubbing escapades. My time management abilities improved dramatically, and I did achieve a significant amount, not least of which was searching for, finding and purchasing a house with Brenda.

What did I learn?

1. Mediocrity does not feel good, especially when you know you can do way better.

2. Don’t skip lectures – you will feel like a fool in the exams.

3. The novelty of learning new things is energizing.

4. Being twice the age of the rest of your classmates is not necessarily a bad thing. I was distracted by work. They were distracted by their hair, fashion, alcohol, the opposite sex…(OK, so maybe I was distracted by some of these too, just less!)

5. Spending time with young people doesn’t make you feel old – it makes you feel younger (but also grateful not to be quite so young!)

How did I apply these lessons?

1. I made sure that I focused on the current task. This is not an easy habit to acquire, but well worth the effort invested. I improved my performance both at college and at work.

2. I didn’t skip any lectures again except in extreme circumstances, and then I made sure to catch up the notes in the same week whenever possible.

3. I keep learning new things to keep my energy levels high.

4. I stopped being twice as old as my classmates (37 not equal to double 19) in spite of the benefits!

5. I carried on feeling younger and younger, and now I’m back in short pants;)

Some mistakes carry no lesson. Sometimes there are just too many variables to analyze to discover the root causes, or you will not have access to all the information to enable you to understand the system. Accept it and move on. Try to be more informed for the next attempt, minimize the variables if you can, be more alert and aware and keep tighter control if possible.

Nothing succeeds like success – Sir Arthur Helps

Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. – Bill Gates

Learn from your success as well as your failures. Whenever you find something that works for you, take careful note. Analyze the process you followed – what steps were involved in what sequence. It might work again, may be adaptable for a similar or quite different circumstance, and may be useful to others too. Write it down, use it again, refine it if needs be, and share it.

There’s hardly a man alive who could not retire very comfortably in his old age if he could sell his experience for what it cost him. – Clarence Randall

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