A friend of mine married a beautiful young woman and when they came to town, I had the pleasure of taking them out for food and entertainment. They were as happy as any couple I have ever seen.
In a shirt time he discovered she had a latent problem of alcoholism that returned with a fury. Then she began using other drugs. They divorced.
Later when I told him I was sorry his marriage was a failure he said, “It may have been a failure but it was not a mistake.” It was hard for me to see the difference until he explained.
For one thing, it gave him some of the most magnificent memories of his life. He admitted it took a while before he could enjoy the memories without feeling the pain. In time, he learned how to think back on the pleasures and joys and the more he learned to separate the joy from the pain, the clearer were his good memories of their years together.
Another reason he felt it was not a mistake was that he finally had a daughter. He had never had a child and when they married, her little daughter became so dear to him that he could not tell she was not his own. He is still able to spend time with her, to buy her educational gifts and to ease the pain a child feels in having a mother who is addicted to hard drugs.
This conversation with him was immensely helpful to me. I realized I had been much to quick to file away failed relationships as mistakes. Furthermore, the point he made about all failures not being mistakes applies to all the other parts of our lives.
I have come to realize that every relationship, job, hobby or any other serious interest we have throughout our lives is like a separate little book in the library of our soul. Like most books, there are both happy and unhappy things in them. To make sure we don’t let the unhappy parts dominate our consciousness, we need to go through them from time-to-time and yellow pencil the good parts. Good memories are worth fighting for.
I applied this same truth to a job I once had as a teacher. One year they gave me the slower students and my inability to teach them stressed me right into a bad case of ulcers. I was definitely a failure in that job despite the fact that years later one of the students introduced me to friends as “the best teacher I ever had.” His kind words, coming decades after I taught his class, failed to correct the sense of failure I had carried all those years.
I realize now this failure was not a mistake. It prompted me to return to graduate school and earn a MS in special education. I wanted to learn to teach those children so much that it impelled me to turn my failure into a success. Even in my personal life, many years later I was able to teach a 16-year-old neighborhood boy to read and write.
One more true story brings out the identical lesson. In the 70s I wrote for a Nashville publisher and had a hit song and a network theme song. When I retired in ’94 and wanted to write songs full-time, my efforts to hook up with another Nashville music publisher failed. They loved my writing but I could not fit myself into the new Nashville system. Disappointed, I decided to write, publish and record my own music and to create a one-man show composed of my own stories and songs.
My “failure” in ’94 has given me nine CDs and 13 years of fun and fulfillment. Again, this failure was not a mistake.
Scan your own life with this insight. You may be surprised at how few mistakes you have made.
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