Mistakes as a Path to Humility: Insights from a Thought-Provoking Quote

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Thanks to my father for sending me a quote that he thought was very much in line with the spirit of the “My Favorite Mistake” podcast.

The quote wasn't attributed and I haven't been able to find the source online. The quote was placed over an image of the actor Pierce Brosnan, but I'm not sure what that connection was.

I made an image that I shared on LinkedIn and it's gotten a great response and it's sparked a lot of thought-provoking discussion that goes beyond the quote.

Here is the image and here is the LinkedIn post that has 163+ comments, over 5,000 shares and/or reactions, and over 236,000 views:

A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant.

“A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant.”

When trying to find a source / origin / attribution to the quote, I found a similar expression that's attributed (correctly or not) to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, an Islamic scholar.

“Perhaps a sin that humbles you is better than a good deed that makes you arrogant. ~ 

Not all mistakes are sins, of course. Most mistakes, like choosing the wrong job or company amongst a number of options, wouldn't count as sins, I guess.

This is a sidetrack from the point of the quote, but people often mistake “humbled” with “honored.” When you receive an award or some sort of recognition, it's probably more accurate to say “I'm honored to receive…” as opposed to “It's so humbling to receive this award.”

What's really “humbling” is to think you deserve an award, only to see somebody else win it. Humbling is losing the client when you thought you were doing a good job. Humbling is the two-star book review…

Being humbled can lead to being better if we take the feedback to heart and figure out how to improve what we're doing. Or, sometimes you have to just brush off the two-star review because you can't always please everybody.

Can a particular achievement be humbling? See the discussion around this comment.

Maybe a better, more nuanced version of this expression might be this?

“A mistake that makes a humble person more humble is better than an achievement that makes an arrogant person more arrogant.

Humble or arrogant isn't “yes/no” or “either/or” binary. There are spectrums there. We probably all have an arrogant moment here and there even if we're generally humble…

Dudley Smith commented:

“This is a great quote. A politician that was a friend of my family always said “You learn more from the races you lose than the ones you win, because when you win you believe you were the smartest in the room but when you lose you're forced to critically analyze everything you did”

As I pointed out in my reply:

Episode #2 of the #MyFavoriteMIstake podcast is a story that's very much along those lines, with former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd.

Anyway, there's a lot of good food for thought in the LinkedIn discussion… what do you think? Share your thoughts here… feel free to join the discussion on LinkedIn.


What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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