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I am personally convinced that one of the biggest differences between leaders and losers is what they do after they make a mistake.  Successful people manage to use their mistakes to go further in life.  They take a hard look at what each misstep can teach them, they learn those important lessons, adapt, grow, and become better at what they do.  Losers, on the other hand, fight the lessons that mistakes can teach.  Because they feel entitled to success, they struggle to embrace the reality of their failures.  We all fail.  The key to a powerful life lies in how we recover from failure.

[tweet_box design=”box_16_at” author=”Jonathan Hoover”]The difference between a leader and a loser? How they recover from failure.[/tweet_box]


So, how do you bounce back after a mistake?  Here’s five key steps that will get you back on your feet:

1. Lean Up

First of all, when you find yourself benched from the game because you’ve made a mistake, you need to ask the coach for some direction.  God has a lot to say about how we live our lives, not because He’s a control freak, but because He’s a success coach.  When we listen to his direction, we succeed.

All too often, I find that mistakes in my life happen because I’m leaning in, meaning that I trust my own intuition.  In my naivety, I think that I can trust my gut.  Feelings, though, are extremely fickle leaders.  God’s direction is always right, as the book of Proverbs reminds us.  We need to lean up.

Proverbs 3:5–6 (NIV)
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

2. Slow Down and Think

Say I’m driving down the road and suddenly crash into a giant brick wall.  It happened for one of two reasons.  Either I was going too fast to change course when the wall came in view, or I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the wall at all.  When we “hit a wall” in life, it’s usually for the same reasons.

Maybe we’re going too fast.  The pace of life can be extremely demanding, and sometimes that pace can push us so hard that we don’t even see the danger we’re headed toward.  Or, we’re distracted, poorly focused, or not fully thinking things through.  In any case, the fall-out of our mistake should be enough to remind us to slow down and think.

It’s hugely important to get clarity on what decisions led to the mistake and why.  Understanding our failures is crucial in order to plan for future success.

[tweet_box design=”box_16_at” author=”Jonathan Hoover”]Understanding our failures is crucial in order to plan for future success.[/tweet_box]

3. Get Advice from Wise People

The last thing we usually want to do when we make mistakes is talk to people about them.  We especially don’t feel motivated to talk to wiser, more successful people about our failure, because we fear we might feel additionally stupid.  Fight back against the temptation to internalize your mistake and talk only to yourself about it.  The Bible tells us that when we engage the insight of several wise counselors, our future plans have a better chance at success.  The truth is that most accomplished, wise people have made plenty of mistakes themselves, and are more than happy to share what they’ve learned.   It’s a good thing to learn from your mistakes; it’s better to learn from others.

Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)
22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

4. Embrace change

Mistakes happen because the approach you’re using isn’t working.  This means that if you want to start being successful, part of your approach will have to change.  You can either fight this, or embrace it.  My experience has been that embracing change after a mistake can be the toughest part (mostly because I hate admitting that I was wrong), but it’s the most necessary.  Success demands flexibility.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Thomas Edison.  The story goes that he was talking to a reporter about his journey to develop the battery powered electric lightbulb.  The reporter referenced Edison’s many test cells composed of different materials and different designs—all of which had failed.  He expressed his sympathy to Edison, that it was too bad that he had failed to get any results.  His legendary response was: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Sometimes we simply need to embrace the fact that what we’ve tried hasn’t worked.  That shouldn’t make us feel like failures.  Instead, it should inspire us to look to new possible solutions.  Those new solutions may become the bridge to our full potential.

Embrace that bridge.

5. Move on

When you have a car accident, eventually you have to leave the scene and move on with the rest of your life.  Just like a car accident, big mistakes in life can leave you shocked, disoriented, regretful, and hurting.  But you can’t let those feelings convince you to live at the intersection of your mistake.  Get help, get clarity, get well, and move on.

Remember that Jesus told us that not even a sparrow falls from the sky without drawing the attention of God.  We, He then said, are more valuable than a lot of sparrows.  So when you make a mistake—when you fall—God knows, and He’s there to help you get past it.  Let God do His thing… let Him restore, and then grow into your future.  This mistake will eventually become part of the story of how God helped you reach your potential.

One important disclaimer:  I’ve noticed lately that a lot of people are using the term “mistake” to refer to moral or character failures.  For example, I’ve had a husband recently tell me: “I made a mistake and cheated on my wife.”  No, that wasn’t a mistake.  A mistake is an unintentional step in the wrong direction that has negative consequences.  Cheating on your wife is a deliberate sin.  There’s a difference.  If you’d like to read a fantastic piece on the difference between a mistake and a sin, check out Michael Hyatt’s post on that topic here.

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