Mistakes Sometimes Lead To Success

When we decide to tackle something more complex than our own experience, we are faced with limits and, thus, with the possibility of making a mistake, and, in front of a mistake, balance is broken. For this reason, in the common imagination, mistakes are generally perceived in a negative sense. 


How do we react to a mistake?


We can have a negative response, detecting something dangerous, or a positive one, seizing something useful. At first, there is always a reaction of frustration, fear and anger followed by different reactions: someone turns away and withdraws into oneself – “I can’t do it” – keeping a fearful attitude; someone turns away and denies his/her mistake – “it’s not my fault” – keeping an angry attitude; someone takes the opportunity to see the situation from a different point of view, managing, overcoming and transforming fear and anger into a positive attitude.


History teaches us that some mistakes have led to incredible achievements. During my lessons to the students of the tourist reception course at the ‘Carlo Porta Institute’ in Milan, I always tell them that the success of great personalities, professionals and companies often came by a series of mistakes that pointed out unexpected ways out and solutions.


A striking example is how America was discovered. In August 1492, Christopher Columbus set sail from the Spanish port of Palos de la Frontera. He was fascinated by Marco Polo’s descriptions of China and listened to the early theories on the sphericity of the Earth; he thought that Europe and the Asian continent were not so far apart. He blatantly miscalculated, making a mistake that did not take him to the Indies, where he thought he was headed, but to America and thus discovered a new continent.


Another example is related to medicine: Alexander Fleming who forgot to throw away some samples of bacteria (taken from his stuffy nose) and went on a three-day holiday. On his return he noticed that the bacteria had grown, except in a few places, where mould was present. This oversight, and a mistake that we would not expect from a researcher, led him in 1928 to the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic known and used in human history.


I like to quote Henry Ford’s sentence ‘Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, but make sure that you do it more intelligently’ to explain that mistakes can therefore be interpreted as one less step towards the goal, as a form of wisdom, which is essential to grow both professionally and personally.


It is said that the only man who never makes mistakes is the man who never does anything. The important thing is to understand the mistake and not to persevere, but to draw a useful lesson not to relapse again; we must not be afraid of mistakes if we want to grow.


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