Rookie Mistake

+ Light bulb April 11 Muse 11670805_sDuring a meeting with our Irish contractor about the kitchen renovation, I was happily envisioning the finished product and said, “When it’s all done, James, we’ll have a celebratory sip of Bushmills whiskey!” I thought I was suggesting to an Irishman a favorite beverage from home, but my husband recognized my cultural mistake. Leaning over to me, he whispered sotto voce, “Honey, Bushmills is the British version of Irish whiskey. You don’t offer an Irishman Bushmills, you offer him Jamison!”

James, having heard this exchange, had a glint in his eye when I looked over at him. “Sorry, James,” I apologized, “Politically incorrect error!” He kindly shrugged it off and good-naturedly said, “Rookie mistake.”

I loved this moment, which showed James’s even temperament and endeared him to me. His response was pitch-perfect to my little blooper. It showed that he recognized my heart-felt attempt to acknowledge his culture, while it also allowed that I’d slightly missed the mark.

“Rookie mistake” acknowledges but doesn’t judge – allows recognition of a “miss” without making someone feel foolish. “Rookie” implies that you have a rightful place in the club, but that you have a ways to go to reach a certain level of expertise.

This is a healthy, gentle way to respond to mistakes. I find it’s often easier to be kind to others in their “off” moments, as James was with me, than I am to myself when I’ve made an error. It’s hard for most of us when our expectations and aspirations don’t match up with the results we’ve gotten. Even though we know we’ve been in there honestly trying, doing as well as we could, there will always be times when we fall short of the mark.

This mark is usually a level of perfection that we’ve set for ourselves – not the expectation others have of us – and it is often not a realistic one. I know that I judge myself more harshly than I should, expecting myself to be at an evolved level of a skill that I haven’t actually had enough experience to achieve. But, I still give myself a talking to when I “fail.”

Perhaps, instead of being so harshly self-critical, I should just whisper to myself, “Rookie mistake!” – give myself a pat for trying, instead of berating myself for failing. Then, I’d still be on the team, knowing I would get more seasoned as I went along.

“Failure” is a loaded term for most of us. Feeling we’ve failed can put us in a tailspin of disappointment, unworthiness, and powerlessness. But maybe that’s because of how we’re perceiving failure. What if we decided failure wasn’t such a negative thing? What if we could look at it the way a successful entrepreneurial CEO my husband once worked for thought of it? Asked to what he attributed his success, the man answered, “I looked upon each of my failures as the next step towards my success.” There’s a non-judgmental – even positive – way to look at failure!

A client once described the reemergence of a chronic condition she was trying to heal as a failure, a set-back. I suggested she think of that moment as “another round” instead. This round provided an opportunity to try again, perhaps with a different result. Maybe this round would bring a new insight into the issue, or she would see herself responding to the issue differently. Perceiving the moment as something other than a set-back helped her feel less defeated and able to move on.

Thomas Edison had a neutral view of failure. He said, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I wonder if Edison considered himself a rookie with a huge learning curve through those ten thousand ways that wouldn’t work. While I imagine he might have had moments of disappointment and discouragement, he clearly didn’t have an ultimate, show-stopping sense of failure or defeat. I mean, this is the guy who invented the light bulb!

Let’s try letting ourselves off the negative hook of “failure.” Let’s pat ourselves on the back for this round of practice, this attempt, this trial – and then try again. Let’s not suffer defeats. Let’s just take another step towards success.

Go for it, Rookie!


  1. LOVE. Thank you 🙂

  2. Isabel Leonard says

    This reminds me of when I was trying to quit smoking twenty-five years ago. With each failure, I said to myself: Well, that was just practicing. Next time will be easier. The sixth attempt worked, and non-smoking became a permanency.

  3. Such a positive and gentle way to move ourselves toward self-acceptance. Great blog!

  4. Love this, Janet!! Great post. Thank you, Again…and Again!

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