A coworker ONCE handed me a timber list, pointing out significant "discrepancies" with the drawings of the frame supposedly to be built with those timbers. In response to a fairly polite demand for clarification, I had to explain that those were not discrepancies; but mistakes -- and quite a few of them. I took credit for my fair share of those mistakes and then, in admiring the pervasive flaws, I had to concede that I must have had some help in achieving this particular level of mistakenness.

I have thought about this incident since. It has occurred to me that my unfortunate comrade was either unfamiliar with mistakes, or unprepared to accept them for what they are – inevitable and interesting. I have given this topic sufficient consideration that I can offer the following:

My "Top Ten List of Things To Like About Mistakes"

1. The best and biggest mistakes are usually team efforts.

2. There is little question that alert people learn far more from mistakes than from correct decisions/actions.

3. It is possible to learn from others’ mistakes – some of the educating perpetrators can even be long dead.

4. Mistakes are many things, including a sure indicator that somebody is at least trying.

5. The converse is true – a mistake free person or community can be neither trying nor risking much.

6. It is a lot easier, more fun, and classier to tell tales about one’s past mistakes than past successes.

7. To err is human. We are far more fun, and a whole lot easier, to live with than are angels (plenty of time for that later, anyway).

8. Mistakes are empowering. At any point of our lives, most of us can commit mistakes which are far more costly than are profitable the coups we can arrange.

9. You can learn more about a person in the presence of their mistakes, and their mitigating efforts, than almost anywhere else (Watergate comes to mind).

10. The happiest mistakes felt like really great ideas at the time. The saddest ones you really recognized at the time.

So here’s my list of "Things Not To Like About Mistakes"

1. The worst mistakes are often subtle, challenging to recognize, and easy to ignore, because they are mistakes of inaction leading to lost opportunity. Some more egregious examples include: unexplored childhoods, uncelebrated events, unhugged parents, unnoticed sunsets, unread books, unused World Series tickets, and unemployed minds.

Note Bene: I am an aficionado of mistakes. They should not, however, be mistaken for screw-ups. These equally inevitable human works are caused exclusively by acts of stupidity. Most crimes fall in the screw-up genre, for instance. Nor is this intended as an apologia for sloppiness, which deserves our every effort at eradicating from our lives.

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