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The Fallacy of Learning From Your Mistakes

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The Fallacy of Learning From Your Mistakes

“I could have told you, but you had to learn this lesson on your own.”

How many times did you hear that phrase as a child, or as a young adult? How many times have you heard it as an adult? I’m not very fond of that phrase. Wait, that’s not strong enough: I detest that phrase.

The first time I heard that phrase was as a six-year-old child, and it didn’t come from my mother or father; it came from our television set. Once a year, The Wizard of Oz came on television, and it was a big deal! You knew it was coming weeks in advance, you gathered as a family to watch, and you savored every moment. The story was amazing, the switch to color was breathtaking, and the characters were unforgettable. As if it was yesterday, I do remember scratching my six-year-old head at the ending. To refresh your memory, Glinda, “The Good Witch,” finally reappears. She floats in, perched inside a giant bubble, and she seems ready to fix everything.

I was probably the only person on the face of the earth who was not a fan of Glinda, but I had my reasons. I wanted to jump over the rainbow, walk right up to that good witch and say this:

“Glinda, you sent Dorothy into the woods alone, even though Dorothy had a furious witch coming after her due to the accidental killing of the witch’s sister.  You even felt the need to humiliate this angry witch right in front of the whole bunch of munchkins. You watched as Dorothy and her friends were burned, beaten, poisoned, and kidnapped by heinous flying monster monkeys. Other than making a little snow come down, you did nothing. What’s more, you sent her down this yellow brick road to a Wizard, who was really a fraud, and who, recognizing their horrible predicament, gave them an incredibly dangerous, impossible task based on a lie. Glinda, you finally decide to reappear only after the supposed Wizard botched the balloon getaway he had promised to Dorothy, and he left without her.

And wait for it; here’s that priceless exchange and lesson that ensued:

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?

Glinda: You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.

Dorothy: I have?

Scarecrow: Then why didn’t you tell her before?

Glinda: Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

Spoiler Alert:

Dorothy realized that everything she ever wanted was right in her own backyard. After all, she said this: “If it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” Glinda, rather pleased with herself, proclaimed that all Dorothy had to do was three clicks of her heels, and home she would go.

You have to learn it for yourself?!

Related: Getting Good At Doing Things Badly

That was my first memory of a phrase, and a lesson, that I continue to find just as ridiculous today as I did many years ago. Where is it written that lessons in life that bring pain, loss, fear, and far worse, cannot be explained to individuals beforehand?

I didn’t believe it when I was six, and I don’t believe it now. Not all lessons require pain and loss to be learned. You do NOT have to “learn it for yourself.” That’s what teachers are for, and that’s what mentors are for. We all know that making mistakes is a part of life – it’s a part of growing up. It’s a part of evolving as a person. But why would we consciously choose not to reach out and try and help those whom we parent, or work with, or manage, or simply care about, so that they can learn a lesson for themselves? That logic just doesn’t work for me.

We may not be able to control what others do with the lessons we present, but I will never shy away from clearly, and compassionately, trying to help others avoid the crushing consequences of having to learn a lesson for themselves. That’s what I’ve always loved about selling: Selling involves skillfully helping others to think ahead and to consider the “what if” scenarios to help fight life’s tough lessons. Sometimes that involves selling, and sometimes that involves telling, but more often then not, it involves courage.

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