Mistakes are a huge part of learning

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2006

Yesterday, General Carl E. Mundy Jr. delivered a speech to cadets at Marion Military Institute on what it takes to be a great leader.

He outlined several important characteristics a person should have to make them effective in their everyday life. He outlined characteristics such as humility, integrity and a belief in the organization and their personalities. Naturally, these are all very important pieces of the puzzle for a person in a position to lead.

But there was another trait that probably meant more to the young people in the audience than anything Mundy said all day. Mundy, who served as Commandant of the Marine Corp., said it was okay to make mistakes.

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At first, this statement seemed almost surreal to those listening. How could a man whose career seemed so perfect and so flawless say it was okay to make mistakes? As he arrived to his point, the picture became perfectly clear. Mundy let the cadets know that if they are making mistakes, it means they are learning. If they are not making mistakes, the odds are very good they are either not doing what they are supposed to, or simply not trying hard enough to make a difference.

Mundy’s speech was a breath of fresh air. Too many times students have an enormous amount of pressure thrust upon them by teachers, coaches and parents. For some, nothing short of perfection is acceptable.

The fact is, no young person is ever going to be perfect. They are not going to make the right decisions all the time because they are constantly in new situations. They are going to make mistakes.

On the bright side, they are going to become better people for those mistakes. In similar situations, they will eventually make the right choices. Mistakes are all about progress.

If you think about it, people who have accomplished great things had a few bumps in the road. Kenny Stabler is well known for throwing the ball out of bounds on fourth down his sophomore year at Alabama to stop the clock in a crucial game against Tennessee. All he did after that was win a Super Bowl and enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Albert Einstein was not exactly the best student in his younger days. Einstein was actually told by teachers he would never amount to anything. All he did create the theory of relativity. Both learned from their mistakes and used them as motivation.

People make mistakes. It’s human nature. It’s how they deal with these mistakes that determine how far they go in life. If they sit down, think about what went wrong and get encouragement from the people around them, things usually work out.

If they dwell on mistakes, beat themselves up and don’t get the pat on the back they need from their support systems the story can take a tragic turn.

The next time Jack or Jill strikes out in the big game, don’t look down on them. The next time John or Jane brings home a grade that does not reflect their abilities don’t yell. Tell them you know they can do better and you are confident they will learn from the experience and improve. You might be surprised by the result.

Sometimes it takes tough love to get through to a child. But more times than not, a little encouragement will do the trick.