Mistakes have an indeterminable value, despite whether you make them yourself or not.
Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them yourselfEleanor Roosevelt
Reflection is a beautiful and powerful thing.
There is a gut-wrenching feeling that one can experience that is unique to a mistake of your own making. But, is that the only mistake you can learn from?
Reflection is an amazingly powerful tool to inform and educate a person. I have always believed in the power of reflection as a significant tool in self-awareness and self-development.
Being curious about another person’s life and work can help people gain varying perspectives about things that may speak to them about their own journeys and experiences. By talking to others, whether it’s in a professional capacity or not, of varying backgrounds and experiences, you can achieve a greater insight into different worlds.
Consider this alongside the legal landscape. As lawyers, do we not reflect on other’s mistakes or challenges (i.e. precedents) to inform or perfect our own problem solving approach? Think about legal questions, but also think about day-to-day experiences; e.g. working with a difficult personality in the firm, or approaching a person for a job.
If there’s ever a perfect time to make a mistake, it’s at the beginning of your career. It’s the time where mistakes are somewhat expected and, lets face it, you always learn (whether you like to or not) when a mistake is made because, following that gut-wrenching feeling I spoke of above, you never, ever want to experience that feeling again.
Despite your level of experience, mistakes are inevitable. The real value is in how you respond and rectify the mistake. This is a hard concept for lawyers to really believe because of our egos. We don’t want to be wrong. We can’t be wrong. The thing is, we can and we will be wrong sometimes. You’d think that given that we often argue about legal principles that are very grey that we would accept that sometimes we would lose, but weirdly enough, it seems that a ‘loss’ falls like a lead balloon in our very souls! Ok, yes, dramatic, but sometimes that kind of description can fit.
The thing to remember, in this context, is that we will be wrong. We are human. We must remain focused on acknowledging the wrong, accepting that it happened, and putting a plan in place to rectify it as best as can be achieved. Most importantly, we should find a way to learn something from it. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that although the reason may not always be immediately clear, this is where reflection can be your saving grace. Whether it’s a legal question we get wrong, or how to communicate with a difficult person in the office, it’s an experience, a story, and something to learn from.
The beauty of learning from other’s mistakes as well as our own is that we have the chance to increase our learning opportunities beyond measure. If we open up this opportunity to learn, we expose ourselves to an incredibly varied and colourful landscape of education. If we engross ourselves in the worlds of others, talk with them, share stories and experiences with them, we have the beautiful ability to reflect with them (or on our own, whichever you prefer) about those stories and experiences. We can even embellish some of the stories, build upon them, as we reflect on those stories to help us learn what we can take away from those stories and experiences. Where did mistake happen? What could have avoided the mistake? How would I have reacted? What would I have done? How can I help avoid that happening to me?
This is exactly what we do in practice. We learn from past experiences when we deal with legal matters. So, what’s to say we can’t apply the same to all other types of experiences?
So, here’s a mirror; what can you see?