I recently saw a Facebook post that read: “Your last mistake is your greatest teacher.” I scrolled past quickly then scrolled back and reread it — and boom! It struck a chord — a loud chord.

Like many of you, I have made my share of mistakes — some with big consequences and others not so big. According to researchers, some of the most common mistakes have the biggest consequences. That was news to me. Boiled down, I have made some doozies, including a few of the following:

Mistaking lust for love. Once that cocktail of neurochemicals triggers our happy feelings, we are tricked into believing our love interest is “the one.” The toxic cocktail does not guarantee the happily ever after; on the contrary, it is likened to “happily never after.”

Once reality sets in, the neurochemicals drop off. We crash land without our seatbelts fastened in the town of disillusionment. Our brokenness highlights the sober realization that they were never “the one.”

Toxic folks are masters of “love bombing.” The “bomber” moves in quickly. They overwhelm their victim with lavish gifts, praise, loving words, and actions. These predators are running on all cylinders. We feel intoxicated, yet uneasy. If our antennas are up, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop—and it does. People usually tell on themselves.

Associating and trusting the wrong people. Sometimes because of a long association with a company or individual, we are reluctant to look elsewhere for our services or friends. But when a major mistake or betrayal is committed against us, it becomes apparent that our loyalty was misguided.

Refusing to learn. As long as we live, we should grow; yet we often keep doing the same old, same old. We tend to believe if it is not broken, no fixing is necessary. But is that true? Perhaps in hindsight, we may realize that we have lost out on something better.

Failing to separate our thoughts from our feelings. Separating these conjoined twins is difficult. It may be a negative passing thought producing our anxiety; or simply heightened feelings that we label intolerable.

In either case, we are in the driver’s seat. Sitting with our feelings and deciphering what they are trying to tell us, instead of reacting is difficult, but doable. We think 6200 thoughts a day, imagine if we reacted to all of them?

Ego trips. We humans have a little spark of narcissism that often cause us to burn bridges. Our “trips” lead us down the road of unhappiness. Riding along with us is the need to be right. Sometimes hiding behind the mask of insecurity, we look for validation. If it is not forthcoming, we dismiss the person as “stupid” severing an otherwise good relationship.

I am sure you can come up with a shopping list of your own slip-ups. If not, you are indeed lucky or perhaps have not tried anything new. If we fail to stretch past our comfort zone to do the inner work, we become sitting ducks for errors in judgment aka mistakes.

Making mistakes and learning from them is a tricky business. How often have you admonished yourself with: How stupid of me and the ever present I should have… (fill in the blanks.) We judge ourselves harshly, don’t we? From a spiritual perspective, it can be argued that there is no such thing as a mistake. Our errors are forgiven by a merciful God.

Shaming and punishing ourselves is not helpful and rarely result in behavior changes. But there is good news: A mistake is an event, the full benefit of which we may not realize. If we could see our mistakes as a product of hindsight, they would propel us toward greater growth and awareness.

Sometimes the concept of a mistake is tied to the larger notion of failure. Imagine teaching a child to ride a two-wheeler, and when they fall off (as they do) it was deemed a failure? How ridiculous! They have not mastered the skill of riding a bike, period.

Mistakes usually cause some degree of pain, loss, or struggle, but they do not make us bad people. Maybe we do not like the consequence of our choices and call it a mistake. But how then can we learn to become a better version of ourselves?

Life is not graded on pass or fail; we learn from trial, error and experimentation. It is these little starts and stops that often produce new data that result in changed behavior.

Somewhere logged in my brain is this nugget: Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment. Yup, if we own and give value to our mistakes, they become our greatest teachers.

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Celia Marszal-Iannelli
Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.