We all make mistakes throughout our lives. Some people may make more than others, but everyone is going to mess up at some point in their life. This is to be expected, as no one is perfect. The important thing is not that you make a mistake, but how you deal with it once you do. It is how you handle the aftermath that will determine the impact of the mistake on your life and happiness. Having messed up numerous times myself over the years, I have had plenty of opportunities to learn about mistakes, and I have come to realize that there are two important components to dealing with them. First, you have to take ownership of it, and then you have to learn from it. If you can manage to do these two things, you will be able to maintain a happy, successful life despite any mistakes you make.
A perfect example about how to handle making a mistake comes from when I was 21 years old just after my third year at Notre Dame. The following story is known by those close to
me as the “sweet and sour incident.” Both of my parents are teachers, and thusly a lot of their friends are teachers, and at the end of every school year on the last day of school they host an end of the school year/start of summer break party. There is barbecue, music, a fire pit, games, and plenty of adult beverages. It is a lot of fun. This particular year I had finished my semester while my parents still had a few days of school left. So, being the amazing, giving son I am, I volunteered to go do the shopping to get everything for the party. They gave me a list for the food and such, but in addition they needed me to pick up the ingredients for a particular cocktail. This was fine, and they gave me the recipe for the drink. They wanted to make it in bulk to avoid constantly having to play bartender all night, and since the recipe was for a single serving, I had to do some calculations to increase the recipe for multiple people. I was a math major though, so this didn’t pose much of an issue. I figured out how much to buy, and my best friend and I drove off to Wal-Mart to get everything.
We were progressing nicely doing the shopping, and we got to one of the ingredients for the cocktail, sweet and sour mix. I looked at my list, and it said that I needed 28 bottles. This seemed like a lot since no other ingredient had more than 4 bottles, which should have been my first clue that something was wrong, but I trusted my math and started grabbing bottles. We had taken all of the bottles off of the shelf and only had 24 bottles, which should have been my second clue, so we asked a stock boy to grab 4 bottles from the back. My friend said that this seemed like a lot, but I told him that I had done the math myself and was sure it was right. We finished shopping and were checking out when the cashier asked us why we needed so much sweet and sour, this should have been the third clue that something was amiss, but I simply replied that we were having a party, finished checking out, and went home.
When we got home my friend and I got started mixing the cocktail in a big bucket. My friend looked at the recipe I had initially been given, looked at the large number of bottles of sweet and sour, and then looked at me laughing and said, and I quote, “You dumbass!” After he stopped rolling with laughter, he showed me my error. Somewhere in converting between standard and metric and upping the recipe, I had made a little mistake that turned 10 bottles of sweet and sour into 28. I felt so stupid. The entire party, and for several days after, I had to endure the laughter and ridicule of my family and friends telling the story of the genius, math major that bought a lifetime supply of sweet and sour. I even got to relive my stupidity every time I left the house, because we ran out of room in the house and had to store the extra bottles in the garage.
Luckily, I had the mental tools to get through this epic blunder. I admitted that I had made a mistake and owned up to it. As I heard my friends and family tell people this story ad nauseam to anyone and everyone that would listen, I would just laugh it off, give a little shrug, and say, “It happens.” I also made sure that I would never make a mistake like this again. I am no longer arrogant enough to think that I am incapable of error, and I always double check my own work and then have someone else check it too. I also know to listen when others suggest that I may have made a mistake. By accepting ownership of my mistake and learning from it, I not only got through this ordeal, but I also have ensured that I will not mess up this way again. By doing these two things I turned my misstep into something I can laugh about and taught myself a valuable lesson, which turned my mistake from a negative into a positive.
It literally took over a year, after the next year’s party, to get rid of all of that sweet and sour. My family still gives me a hard time about it. To this day, every time I see a bottle of sweet and sour I smile to myself as I think about this story. Even though it is a somewhat trivial example, it does a good job of showing how a mistake, even one that you have to relive over and over, can be a positive experience in your life. Take it from someone who has committed more blunders than he cares to admit, that if you take ownership and learn how to avoid making the same mistake again, you will not only have no problem getting over it, but you may even be able to use it to add happiness to your life.