Manvotional: Facing the Mistakes of Life

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 4, 2011 · 40 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

Facing the Mistakes of Life
From The Crown of Individuality, 1909
By William George Jordan

There are only two classes of people who never make mistakes—they are the dead and the unborn. Mistakes are the inevitable accompaniment of the greatest gift given to man—individual freedom of action. If he were only a pawn in the fingers of Omnipotence, with no self-moving power, man would never make a mistake, but his very immunity would degrade him to the ranks of the lower animals and the plants. An oyster never makes a mistake—it has not the mind that would permit it to forsake an instinct.

Let us be glad of the dignity of our privilege to make mistakes, glad of the wisdom that enables us to recognize them, glad of the power that permits us to turn their light as a glowing illumination along the pathway of our future.

Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom, the assessments we pay on our stock of experience, the raw material of error to be transformed into higher living. Without them there would be no individual growth, no progress, no conquest. Mistakes are the knots, the tangles, the broken threads, the dropped stitches in the web of our living. They are the misdeals in judgment, our unwise investments in morals, the profit and loss account of wisdom. They are the misleading bypaths from the straight road of truth and truth in our highest living is but the accuracy of the soul.

Life is simply time given to man to learn how to live. Mistakes are always part of learning. The real dignity of life consists in cultivating a fine attitude towards our own mistakes and those of others. It is the fine tolerance of a fine soul. Man becomes great, not through never making mistakes, but by profiting by those he does make; by being satisfied with a single rendition of a mistake, not encoring it into a continuous performance; by getting from it the honey of new, regenerating inspiration with no irritating sting of morbid regret; by building better to-day because of his poor yesterday; and by rising with renewed strength, finer purpose and freshened courage every time he falls.

In great chain factories, power machines are specially built to test chains—to make them fail, to show their weakness, to reveal the mistakes of workmanship. Let us thank God when a mistake shows us the weak link in the chain of our living. It is a new revelation of how to live. It means the rich red blood of a new inspiration.

If we have made an error, done a wrong, been unjust to another or to ourselves, or, like the Pharisee, passed by some opportunity for good, we should have the courage to face our mistake squarely, to call it boldly by its right name, to acknowledge it frankly and to put in no flimsy alibis of excuse to protect an anemic self-esteem.

If we have been selfish, unselfishness should atone; if we have wronged, we should right; if we have hurt, we should heal; if we have taken unjustly, we should restore; if we have been unfair, we should become just. Every possible reparation should be made. If confession of regret for the wrong and for our inability to set it right be the maximum of our power let us at least do that. A quick atonement sometimes almost effaces the memory. If foolish pride stands in our way we are aggravating the first mistake by a new one. Some people’s mistakes are never born singly—they come in litters.

Those who waken to the realization of their wrong act, weeks, months or years later, sometimes feel it is better to let confession or reparation lapse, that it is too late to reopen a closed account; but men rarely feel deeply wounded if asked to accept payment on an old promissory note—outlawed for years.

Some people like to wander in the cemetery of their past errors, to reread the old epitaphs and to spend hours in mourning over the grave of a wrong. This new mistake does not antidote the old one. The remorse that paralyzes hope, corrodes purpose, and deadens energy is not moral health, it is—an indigestion of the soul that cannot assimilate an act. It is selfish, cowardly surrender to the dominance of the past. It is lost motion in morals; it does no good to the individual, to the injured, to others, or to the world. If the past be unworthy live it down; if it be worthy live up to it and—surpass it.

Omnipotence cannot change the past, so why should we try? Our duty is to compel that past to vitalize our future with new courage and purpose, making it a larger, greater future than would have been possible without the past that has so grieved us. If we can get real, fine, appetizing dividends from our mistakes they prove themselves not losses but—wise investments. They seem like old mining shares, laid aside in the lavender of memory of our optimism and now, by some sudden change in the market of speculation, proved to be of real value.

Musing over the dreams of youth, the golden hopes that have not blossomed into deeds, is a dangerous mental dissipation. In very small doses it may stimulate; in large ones it weakens effort. It over-emphasizes the past at the expense of the present; it adds weights, not wings, to purpose. “It might have been” is the lullaby of regret with which man often puts to sleep the mighty courage and confidence that should inspire him. We do not need narcotics in life so much as we need tonics. We may try sometimes, sadly and speculatively, to reconstruct our life from some date in the past when we might have taken a different course. We build on a dead “if.” This is the most unwise brand of air-castle.

The other road always looks attractive. Distant sails are always white; far-off hills always green. It may perhaps have been the poorer road after all, could our imagination, through some magic, see with perfect vision the finality of its possibility. The other road might have meant wealth but less happiness; fame might have charmed our ears with the sweet music of praise, but the little hand of love that rests so trustingly in ours might have been denied us. Death itself might have come earlier to us or his touch stilled the beatings of a heart we hold dearer than our own. What the other road might have meant no eternity of conjecture could ever reveal; no omnipotence could enable us now to walk therein even if we wished.

It is a greater mistake to err in purpose, in aim, in principle, than in our method of attaining them…Right principles are vital and primary. They bring the maximum of profit from mistakes, reduce the loss to a minimum. False pride perpetuates our mistakes, deters us from confessing them, debars us from repairing them and ceasing them.

Let us never accept mistakes as final; let us organize victory out of the broken ranks of failure and, despite all odds, fight on calmly, courageously, unflinchingly, serenely confident that, in the end, right living and right doing must triumph.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul June 5, 2011 at 2:02 am

Everybody should read this. I wish that I could’ve seen this earlier on in life.

2 Jason June 5, 2011 at 6:58 am

Great post- Everyone else seems infallible when you are in your twenties. To realize we are all doing the best we can at that given moment really helped me relax. When I first started teaching, I felt like I needed to be perfect in all aspects and wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. I had a fellow teacher say, “It’s OK to be where you are at, just don’t stay there.”

3 Mato Tope June 5, 2011 at 9:15 am

Wow, great find, Brett.
What fantastic, insightful literature we have at our disposal. Great minds leaving behind an Ariadne thread of knowledge for generations to come.
Yet again, the Art of Manliness lives up to – and surpasses- its grand manlifesto.

4 lance June 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

As soon as we accept what is or what has been then we can create what can be.

5 Adeyemi Levites June 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

That was a masterpiece!
I have always thought about mistakes exactly this way but I took it as my own personal wisdom for living in the present and loving the future ahead. Seeing it spelt out by another man as he echoes his wisdom about mistakes to the world makes me exceedingly happy.
This is a must-read for every man out there who is on the verge of making a decision but is afraid of making a mistake. If you make a mistake, drop what you missingly took and then retake again. There is absolutely no sin in trying, but not trying at all is a sin against purpose.

6 Macauley June 5, 2011 at 10:32 am

Powerful. True. Hard-hitting.

7 Pyke June 5, 2011 at 11:14 am

This article really made my day. Keep up the good work!

8 Daniel June 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Awesome article. Comes at the perfect time for me. Keep it up AOM!

9 Chief&Headman June 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Wish I’d read that when still in my twenties. Still valid, though, in my thirties, moving into the next decade of life. Kinda been picking up on those truths got the last few years. Nice to have it laid out in clear lines of thought. Thanks.

10 Titus June 5, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the article, Brett & Kate.
Very inspiring and useful.
Keep up the great work that you are doing.

11 Brent June 5, 2011 at 5:14 pm

With some men commenting they wish they had this knowledge in their thirties, I feel very fortunate to be twenty-two and a recipient of this article and the abundance of practical and profound material on this website. Thanks Brett and Kate. You guys are really fulfilling the vision of your website.

12 Doug June 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm

“Timely” is the first thing to mind.. It is so easy to slip into the trap of thinking “if only I had..” about schools, jobs, homes, friends, cars, women!! ! Argghh! One must pick up the pieces, reflect and then it’s Onward and Upward !!

13 Bill June 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Wonderful. Thank you!

14 Ed June 5, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I say with no hesitation, no hyperbole:

Thank God the Internet was made, to read things like this.

15 David Y June 5, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Great article Brett.

It’s a lesson we all need to learn at some point. Best to learn from our mistakes, and move on with life. Don’t deny making them or dwell on them too much.

My dad once told me of the time he made a big mistake on the job that cost the company time and money. His boss told him, the only way to not make a mistake is to not do anything.

16 Gavin June 5, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Excellent post, thank you so much. This couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Just as I was feeling a bit low about a mistake I had made, I read this article. God really is great in the way he works and the colour he brings into our lives!

17 David June 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm

What a beautiful piece of prose, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

I can see the importance of not reflecting too heavily on the past; something I am very guilty of.

Thank you Brett and Kate for sharing these pieces of literature with us.

18 Ryan Grimm June 6, 2011 at 7:45 am

Wisdom comes from Experience.
Experience comes from Lack Of Wisdom.

19 Don E. Chute June 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

Awesome. Should be required reading as a 13th birthday present.

20 Carson Malone June 6, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Thank you for posting this article. It’s great to realize how timeless wisdom really is, and this is vintage enlightenment.

21 Fred June 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong.

22 Bryan June 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Great article and it is good to see it here. I am kind of new to this site. This article could be considered to be self help or even some kind of new age teaching. And I have had some confusion about this because it seems that people say stuff like “men have to get real, be reponsible, not feel anything”. And it seems that whatever new age or self help groups I go to seem to be all women, or maybe a few gay males. I come from a dysfunctional family where I had no role models or anyone to teach me about life and relationships. Maybe it is not all about learning from past mistakes, but also knowing when and where to take action, becasue certain people are just waiting to take advantage, arent they?

23 DeMar June 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

The ideas are filled with wisdom and are wonderful in the truest sense of the word. However, what amazes me is the shear beauty of the writing.

24 Georgiaboy61 June 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Thank you for a powerful, insightful article. The older I get, the less I trust the “wisdom” of people who haven’t made some mistakes and learned from them. Failure is a powerful teacher. Dr. Oswald Avery, one of the greatest medical scientists of the 20th century, was asked about performing hundreds, even thousands, of experiments before making a meaningful discovery. He replied, “Disappointment is my daily bread; I thrive upon it.” History does not remember that Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, tried hundreds of different materials for filaments before finding the correct one. Not all of us are scientists or inventors, but each of us lives daily in the laboratory of life, and can profit from the wisdom gained by making mistakes, or from the knowledge others have gained from making them before you.

25 Ricky B June 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

Wow. This is one of the great articles that I will keep with me as long as I live. Thanks for the inspiration!

26 EJ June 8, 2011 at 3:20 am

I’m 18 years old, fresh out of High School and scared by the world ahead of me. I’m apprehensive about who I am and what the future will hold. I procrastinated excessively through high school, receiving B’s and C’s when I was very much one of the brighter people in my class. I did not, however, feel I wasted this time; I spent time learning Japanese, coming in touch with my God, discovering love and losing it. I do not feel myself as a man yet, but I feel stronger and more ready to take on my life with what I have grown with. Mistakes are very much there to improve who we are; they exist not to to make us happier after suffering, but to make us tougher.

I do feel this to be a good article, but it is slightly gaudy literature. The metaphors and analogies are thoughtful, but more prominent than needed for “manovational effect,” Brett. Nevertheless, fantastic message.

Your personal appeals have helped realign myself with a me that I lost in a bunch of social mud that I squandered around in during high school. I’m very much grateful for this website. It’s therapy for me, guidance for a uncertain youth’s decisions.

27 Ted June 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

It is also important for any and all men to have all their personal death records like a will ready, correct and updated at least twice a year.

28 LH June 8, 2011 at 11:44 pm

This article is truly inspiring and motivating. Sometimes I sit down and start feeling sorry for myself and the situation I’m in. I know it’s wrong, but over time I’ve “allowed” myself to feel that way every now and then. After I’ve read up article, I convinced myself that a REAL man doesn’t sit back in his chair and start babying and feeling sorry for his ass. There’s people in the world (people in my city) right now who’s going to bed hungry tonight. Who’s there to encourage and feel sorry for them? I was born with 90% of all the necessities I need to succeed, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I’m better off than my other human brother who was born somewhere in a Uganda jungle running away from the LRA. We’re all human, but why do I get so much better treatment than others? I’ll be grateful, and when something brings me down, I’ll reread this article and pick my ass up again. Renewed strength and renewed courage.

I’ll definitely be printing this article out and tape it to my wall.

29 David M. June 10, 2011 at 1:06 am

Here is the link for the entire book on Google, it’s free:

30 David M. June 10, 2011 at 1:10 am

Actually, I think this is from The Power of Purpose and not The Crown of Individuality, at least that is what Mr. Google says. Brett?

Link to Book:

31 Brett McKay June 10, 2011 at 1:21 am


It can be found in both.

32 Dominik M. June 13, 2011 at 7:23 am

Amazing. That’s what I love AoM for; bringing gems like this one to my attention, always at the right time. Thanks for all your effort, Brett! One thing you surely don’t have to worry about is your legacy. ;)

33 Jack Bauer June 18, 2011 at 8:07 am

I recently screwed up on a project at work. I am a first year analyst and was given the task to fix something that has been broken ever since the project started two years before I joined the company. It has been a year since I started the project, and progress has been made, but not as much as the higher ups wanted. I haven’t been doing a great job of influencing the people that I need to, to get the job done, but now I realize that. Lesson learned…

34 Mario D June 18, 2011 at 10:10 am

Thank you!

35 Jack June 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I appreciate every word of this article. Thank you!

36 Walt W H. June 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm

This is great,the problem is fellas my age when someone makes a mistake,they scream fail in your ear.It’s where they think mistakes will never help.Sometimes mistakes could kill you,literally.But its so annoying.It won’t help anyone when thy do that.

37 Lance Stewart July 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I can hardly put into words how much this post touched me. Like everyone, I go through my moments of trying to deal with the mistakes and regrets of my life. Though I am going through a moment like that right now, this post was just what I needed to read in helping me put my actions and thoughts into perspective. Thank you for this.

38 Rodrigo September 23, 2012 at 12:22 am

Thank you for writting these very important insights. I will make it a point to share this with others. Particularly amazed by this “The remorse that paralyzes hope, corrodes purpose, and deadens energy is not moral health, it is—an indigestion of the soul that cannot assimilate an act. It is selfish, cowardly surrender to the dominance of the past. It is lost motion in morals; it does no good to the individual, to the injured, to others, or to the world. If the past be unworthy live it down; if it be worthy live up to it and—surpass it.” Thank you again

39 Fred September 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

great post!

We all make many mistakes, every year, every day. We can’t change the past, we must live with our mistakes. The only thing we can do is move on and do better. Sulking about past mistakes will do nothing good for us–it will only keep us locked in the past, paralyzed with guilt and unable to advance confidently into the future. We must learn to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. And forgive others for theirs.

Mistakes can be a stepping stool to wisdom– we must not fear mistakes but rather learn from them.

40 Gabe December 20, 2013 at 5:36 am

Two words: Subliminal Excuses

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