I’ve been thinking about mistakes lately – not just the silly kind where you wear a dress backwards to a party (who would do that?), but mistakes where you truly inconvenience or hurt others. We all make them. Sometimes we are the mistake-maker and other times we are on the receiving end of others’ errors. No matter which side of the equation you fall on, mistakes stink. But if you’re living life, they’re unfortunately inevitable.

Navigational Error

This spring, my husband Joe and I were driving from Southern California to South Dakota. Outside of Provo, Utah, we turned off the GPS because it was giving us faulty information. I was to be the navigator instead. No big deal (or so I thought).

Joe pulled out a printed copy of Mapquest’s directions. He has an excellent sense of direction and usually knows where we’re going. Add in the widespread use of GPS and getting lost seems antiquated. I wasn’t worried. Who gets lost these days? Things work out!

The job of navigator isn’t that hard, so I began to doze. We got to a highway where we needed to turn. Without looking at the directions, I assumed we should turn east because home was east. Duh. We drove dozens of miles and I napped. Joe woke me up and asked why we weren’t in Wyoming yet.

I didn’t know. I looked at the map on my phone and my stomach sank as I realized we were nowhere close to Wyoming. I zoomed out to see where the state lines were. From this perspective, it looked like we could soon turn north, get back on track and get out of Utah. As navigator, I said that we should keep going and not turn around, we were just miles away from our northern turn. It’s no big deal, we’ll be fine! We kept going.

150 miles later, we still hadn’t reached our turn north. We were still in Utah. We should have turned around when we discovered my first mistake, but instead I panicked and had us continue, making the original mistake worse. That was my big mistake of the day.

Icy Inside and Outside

I grew up on the wide-open Northern Plains, where making a wrong turn is no big deal. The middle of the country is filled with highways running parallel to each other. If you miss a turn, go a few more miles and you can get back on track. But when the Rocky Mountains are involved, taking a wrong turn can range from serious to almost life-threatening.

In our lumbering SUV, my “it’s no big deal” Plan B had us driving over the Rocky Mountains on a windy, treacherous road with many switchbacks in near-freezing temperatures, through a state park and over a dam. We were so high up that there was snow on the ground and almost on the highway. I couldn’t look off the side of the road, it was too scary. But I got us into this mess, I was going to get us out, gosh darn it (not really those words). It was gorgeous scenery. But, when one hasn’t chosen to take the scenic route, who cares?

It wasn’t only freezing outside, it was icy inside the car too. Joe doesn’t anger easily, but he is human and I had understandably tripped his trigger. My mistake meant we added hours of windshield time on to our already long trip. I had let Joe down by not taking my navigator responsibilities seriously. I had made a small mistake and then made it worse with a bigger one. We can now laugh about it, but at the time, it wasn’t funny. At all.

Handling the Mistakes of Others

I wish this was my only big recent mistake, but I make them all the time. And when I hurt or inconvenience my friends and family, I feel awful.

Given my recent flubs, I’ve been thinking about how I respond to the mistakes of others. It’s easy to judge and be impatient. But as I make errors myself, I realize I should judge less and accept more.

Maybe that’s the gift of mistakes. We will be on the giving and receiving end of them. While I hate being the giver, I would have no idea how to respond to others’ mistakes, if I didn’t make my own doozies. I’m trying to greet others’ mistakes with more kindness and spaciousness.

However, I still want to avoid making them like the plague and learn from them when possible. For example,  I am now the most alert and inquisitive navigator ever. Less napping, more map-watching. And maybe flying isn’t such a bad way to travel either.