Ughhh…mistakes. We all hate making them, but the fact is that making mistakes is a part of life. Whether you stuffed up an exam question you knew how to do, did something silly at work or didn’t play your best game in an important sports trial, we’ve all made mistakes which seem like the end of the world. With the right mindset, however, it’s possible to turn these “AHHH moments” into positive experiences which enable you to grow, develop and learn so you don’t do the same thing in the future! What’s not to love?

After talking to some current students in UNSW’s Women in Engineering Society (WIESoc), we found that there are three pathways you can take when you make a mistake: 

  1. Get upset by it and avoid the activity to ensure you don’t repeat the mistake. 
  2. Pretend the mistake never happened and move on with your life. 
  3. Accept the mistake, analyse what went wrong (and right!) and then commit to making a change. 

Whilst number three is obviously the most difficult, it is ultimately the best option as it transforms mistakes from negative experiences to ones which initiate helpful change.  

Now, imagine you’ve just sat a big end of year exam. You studied hard, asked your teachers plenty of questions and had an early night. YOU WERE READY. You flew through the paper, confident with most of the questions. However, as you leave the exam, you overhear someone talking about the last question and you realise that you read the instructions wrong. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there (on multiple occasions [Symbol] ). The important thing now is that you learn from this mistake to avoid repeating it in the future. So, how should you go about this? 

First off, you need to accept that you made a mistake and that this is OKAY! As WIESoc 2020 President Angela advises, “make yourself comfortable with failure because it facilitates change.” This is easier said than done, and it’s tempting to blame others or try to forget that the mistake happened. But owning up to your mistake and then taking action will serve you well throughout life. 

After you’ve come to terms with making the mistake, it’s reflection time. Fourth-year student (and one of WIESoc’s Vice Presidents for 2020) Hasara advises “pinpointing exactly what went wrong and also figure out exactly what went right!...when making mistakes there are still good actions and intentions…and it’s important to not just harp on your failure”.  

Once you’ve identified what went wrong & right, it’s time to “think of ways you can improve to avoid these mistakes in the future”, according to WIESoc Secretary Jemima. For our exam example, this might be going slower in exams or forcing yourself to read the question thrice (I swear by this!).  

Whatever your proposed solutions are, it’s important that you act on these changes. Angela summed this up beautifully: “Let your mistakes motivate you to try harder, practice more, revise more and be more attentive. The more you practice, the more you will learn from your mistakes and be able to tackle any challenges that life might throw at you”. 

So, this month I encourage you all to actively make mistakes and realise that they’re not life-defining and can facilitate huge growth. It’s hard and it doesn’t always make you feel the best, but ultimately it is only by failing that we can learn to succeed (as corny as that may sound!) 

By Bella