Do Mistakes Define You?

by Brent M. Jones

I could tell you my life story 10 different times over a 10-month period and each time it would be a little different. I know this to be true from the many years of presenting my own story and listening to those of others in a church men’s group and because I have written down my life story from scratch every year for most of my life.  One thing I have noticed is that the more you do tell the story the more likely it is that you admit your mistakes. Sometimes I wonder how I could not have recognized the mistakes before or if I did was, I just hiding the truth from myself.  Our past experiences certainly do shape us, but they don’t define us.

For several year I was the General Manager of a large distribution company. The company was owned by a family that had the third generation of leadership coming up. It worked out that a period of outside leadership was wanted, and I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be that leader at a time when I was anxious to sell my own business and find another way to use my skills. When the time came that a transition was wanted and both the owners and myself made some mistakes in how we worked things out. I wound up signing a non-compete agreement that made it impossible to stay in what had been our home for over 30 years.  I found a job in New Mexico, sold our home and we moved.

We spent 13 years in New Mexico before retiring and returning to Utah and during that time I had 3 different jobs. The first two jobs were challenging but the last 8 years found a unique and fascinating opportunity to help run a large restaurant chain.

It took me a few years to see my own mistake more clearly, but I also found myself seeing how much the change really meant to our family. The experiences we as a family had in New Mexico were some of the most special ones in our lifetimes all put into place clearly because of my own mistakes.

What followed the mistakes certainly has shaped my life, but I don’t believe that the mistakes have defined me. Our lives were shaped by many different things: family, culture, friends, personal interests and the surrounding environments are factors that help shape our identity. New Mexico provided those very things.

Of course, as I have re-looked at my life story and experience and the mistakes have become obvious. When we find our mistakes sometimes we have to have the courage to rethink things completely. When we finally see what we did wrong it is too late to tear everything down and rebuild from scratch. We really never can start over but the lessons you learned from your flawed work and mistakes will have an effect on your future work. The lessons you learn stick with you.

I have worked hard to change those things about myself that contributed to the past mistakes. That is really the only way you can ensure that the mistakes don’t define you. Looking back on the past allows us to study the nature of ourselves and helps us recognize why we do what we do.