We all make mistakes: but not all mistakes are of the same nature, carry the same consequences or hurt ourselves and others to the same degree. And to rub salt in the wound, we might add that there are some mistakes – the mistakes of a lifetime – for which there does not seem to be an easy (and, in the worst case scenario, ‘any’) comeback.

The first (yes…) mistake would be to believe that we can easily separate strictly personal from professional or career mistakes. Personal blunders can compromise our careers and there is no doubt that career flops can hurt our private lives to the point of ruining our dearest relationships and our mental and physical health as well. The philosopher Spinoza argued back in the XVIIth century that should we have perfect knowledge of all the causes and effects in the Universe, we would understand that everything is connected and there is no such thing as free will. And yet we live our lives under the illusion (can we live fully any other way?) that we are free to choose and fully responsible for our failures.

This case was painfully brought home to me by a close friend who – though talented – had ruined just about every job opportunity or serious relationship in his life. As years went on, he became increasingly lonesome, pessimistic and guilt-ridden to the point of seriously considering suicide a way out. By a lucky strike – and luck is often the best antidote to combat some of our worst nightmares – when he was about to throw in the towel he discovered that he had been afflicted all along by bipolar disorder class II. Talk about a liberation! With suitable treatment and a fast drain of all the accumulated guilt, he found his way and is now on the rebound as a successful and forward looking professional with a revamped personal brand.

Therefore the first lesson – and how very crucial it most certainly is – to take home is to learn to forgive yourself when you make a mistake: you truly do not know the chain of causes that may have driven you to it.

And yet mistakes are best avoided rather than regretted in the first place. Unless of course, that means that the fear of making them paralyses our creativity or enterprising spirit. Mistakes in crucial areas of our lives such as relationships or our careers can be regarded as stepping stones to greatness, and an individual or organization that does not respect and value mistakes as learning opportunities will never excel. With the benefit of hindsight, mistakes – painful as they may have been at the time – can be regarded as the best thing that could have possibly happened under the circumstances; and this is especially true if dead-ends were avoided or further damaged hampered as a result. Some mistakes are in this respect like vaccines inoculating us against debilitating diseases of the body or the soul.

Are there mistakes that can never be repaired? Are there mistakes that can never be forgiven? And by whose yardstick? My proposal to you is that you try your own. Because the only tragic mistake that can never be undone in our lives is that of selling our souls and not being true to the values we know to be true. As Goethe wrote and Gounod beautifully rendered in music, when we become Fausts and forsake the goodness within us in order to achieve whatever the goal may be, tragedy eventually catches up with us and signals the end of our freedom. When we commit that mistake of a lifetime, we forsake our humanity and every apparent gain must be counted as a loss.

The ancient Chinese understood that the Way and Virtue – Tao and Teh – are inextricably linked. Lose one and you lose the other; cultivate one and the other will come up for you to follow. In the end, and as the last truly great Taoist master Loy Ching Yuen stated and I reminded my friend: ‘To truly master the Way, we must go through all of life hellish cycles; at last, we reach the higher heights.’ To set your view anywhere lower than that is the one mistake you cannot afford to make.


Oscar Del Santo is a lecturer, consultant, key speaker, blogger and populariser of online reputation and inbound marketing in Spain. He has been extensively featured in the Spanish and Latin American media and is included in the ‘Top Social Media Influencers’ and ‘Best Marketing Tweeters in Spanish’ lists @OscarDS. He is the author of ‘Reputacion Online para Tod@s’ and the co-author of ‘Marketing de Atraccion 2.0’.