It is a mistake to think all mistakes have a silver lining

1 May 2024

Social media is awash with motivational quotes extolling the virtues of making mistakes. I probably glanced sideways at some quote or other on Instagram — like, five years ago — because now my search tab is full of the things.

Daily I’m reminded that experience is simply the name we give our mistakes, or remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes.

Mistakes and missteps are a part of life, but spend too much on social media, and anyone would think errors are roads paved with gold. After all, mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before. That’s comforting.

Except it may not be the case. Janan Ganesh, writing for the Financial Times, says that while people can bounce back from some mistakes, others can have a profoundly negative impact:

A mistake, in the modern telling, is not a mistake but a chance to “grow”, to form “resilience”. It is a mere bridge towards ultimate success. And in most cases, quite so. But a person’s life at 40 isn’t the sum of most decisions. It is skewed by a disproportionately important few: sometimes professional, often romantic. Get these wrong, and the scope for retrieving the situation is, if not zero, then overblown by a culture that struggles to impart bad news.

We err, but we go on. Getting it wrong with the big calls in life doesn’t mean someone will be doomed to an existence of abject misery. There’s always a plan B. It may not be as alluring as plan A, but it might still be pretty good. As for the social media mistake-advocates, they’d serve more good if they instead advised people not to wallow in their errors.


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