In To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, Henry Petroski said the collapse of the Tacoma Bridge (Washington) on November 7, 1941, had a direct impact on the design of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (New York City), which opened on November 21, 1964. “Tacoma Narrows changed the way that suspension bridges were built,” Petroski said. Petroski, in Success through Failure, said, “Failures always teach us more than the successes about the design of things. And thus the failures often lead to redesigns—to new, improved things.”
Learning from Mistakes Is a Journey, Not a Destination
After twenty-nine years of editing magazines, I have yet to shepherd even one issue through to letter-perfect completion. To leaf through the pages of past issues of the three magazines I have worked with is a humbling experience. Mistakes that were difficult to see are always difficult to miss once the finished product is in my hands. One of the most embarrassing typos in my editing life was misspelling the word “chaos.” Spread across two pages in boxcar type for thousands of readers to see was the word “choas.” Right here is a good place to confess that it warms my heart when I see mistakes in other magazines, especially those that spend thousands of dollars a year on copyeditors.I have learned that being a perfectionist does not make me perfect. Click To Tweet
As an editor, I have learned from my mistakes, but after all these years and hundreds of issues, perfection always seems to be elusive.
I have learned that I can become so careful that I am ineffective.
Practice in my case has not made me perfect. Which means, of course, that learning from my mistakes, as an editor and a minister, has been a journey, not a destination. One of the joys of electronic word-processing is being able to delete words and entire sentences, or perhaps rearrange them (something I have done several times in this short article). In the days of the old-fashioned typewriter, I used a lot of correction fluid and wasted a lot of paper.
Aside from the world of writing and editing, all of life is a journey, a journey with twists and turns and ups and downs. Those of us who have lived for very long can look back over our shoulder and see where different choices in many areas would have yielded more satisfying results. But that does not mean any of us will ever achieve a mistake-free life.
Learning from Mistakes
Here is a short list of what I have learned about mistakes:
- I have learned that being a perfectionist does not make me perfect.
- I have learned that my failures do not make me a failure.
- I have learned that that my failures are not necessarily final.
- I have learned that I can become so careful that I am ineffective.
- I have learned that my successes do not exempt me from making mistakes.
- I have learned that refusing to take ownership of my mistakes does not erase them.
Micah’s statement, “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8), has become one of my favorite Bible verses. Micah’s words speak to me across the ages and give me hope, not that I will ever be perfect, but that with God’s help I will keep getting back up again after each mistake.
Resources and Links
To read more by Simeon Young Sr, consider his book A Piece of My Mind. This volume is a collection of Simeon Young Sr.’s best editorials from his tenure as the editor of the Pentecostal Herald. They remain as relevant today as they were when month by month he worked with words to simply and clearly communicate a facet of truth.