Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mistakes, Yes; Accidents, Never

Of the many life lessons I was taught as a child, there is one that keeps coming back to me. That simple lesson is...


I am not speaking in the spiritual sense of "Everything Happens for a Reason". Though I also believe that to be true, it doesn't account for personal ownership of the "thing" that happened. I was brought up with a clear understanding of the concept that I was responsible for my own actions, that there was no one else to blame for the mistakes I made, and that mistakes were a means of learning. Mistakes are not accidents, but accidents are almost always results of mistakes. The biggest difference between those two words is that we use the word "accident" to absolve ourselves of any personal responsibility, but when we acknowledge our mistakes we are taking personal responsibility. That might be the reason we are far quicker to categorize unfortunate happenings as accidents vice mistakes. The concept of personal responsibility has become so basic to many that we have little patience for those who have yet to "get it" (Click here for a humorous video on the subject).

- That car crash didn't happen by accident, mistakes made lead to it
- Earning Sailor of the Year didn't happen by accident, deliberate performance allowed it to happen
- Failing to finish that marathon didn't happen by accident, improper training and/or poor raceday decisions prevented us from realizing our goal
- The 15 pounds gained this year didn't happen by accident, poor diet and laziness made sure we bulked up
- Not being selected for promotion didn't happen by accident, the jobs we took and/or our documented performance made sure we were overlooked
- Spilling fruit punch on the couch didn't happen by accident, not paying attention to our surroundings made sure it happened
- Fumbling the football didn't happen by accident, not holding onto the ball with both hands allowed it to
- A failed marriage didn't happen by accident (neither does a happy one), a lack of commitment to each other opened the door for divorce

Simply put, I do not believe there is such thing as an "accident", at least not in the way so many of us use the word. Instead, we contribute to the creation of the conditions that allow these things to happen. All too often I hear people talk of the situation in which they find themselves as if they don't know how they got there.

I am not saying we have complete control over our lives, such logic is equally flawed. I am also not saying everything that happens is intentional or that we purposefully sabotage ourselves. I am merely acknowledging that "things" (good or bad) don't happen to us, we allow them to happen. There are many things in life that didn't turn out as I had intended (even with the support of friends, family and shipmates) despite my (our) best effort; though, the result was never an accident. Unfortunate, yes, accident no! I may have turned left, when I should have turned right; I may have asked a question when I should have made a statement; I may have said "No" when I should have said "Yes". Regardless of the result, we must own the outcome and show the person in the mirror (and anyone else who truly matters) we acknowledge our responsibility and ultimate accountability for the mistakes we make.


  1. I like this post. Is there a particular event which triggered it? It didn't happen by accident !!

  2. Each of my posts are inspired by recent happenings in my life. This one stems from seeing people too willing to write mistakes off as "accidents". I have also witnessed a growing number of instances where individuals are choosing not to embrace the idea of personal responsibility, are unwilling to take advantage of the opportunities that surround us, and a migration from deserved reward to perceived entitlement.

  3. Accidents DO happen. Most are preventable. Some are not. It is the individuals responsibility to know the difference and more importantly to accept responsibility and accountability.

  4. I have trouble coming up with an example of an "accident" that was not preventable and therefore did not include someone making a mistake. If you have a good example, please help. We're likely saying the same thing, but I have found that those who make the word "mistake" a part of their vocabulary have no problem taking responsibility and accountability, while those who migrate towards "accident" to describe the same incident have difficulty taking ownership.

    1. If a person claims, "I made a mistake", when they consciously cheated on their girlfriend & got caught, then, that same person made a "mistake" on say, a midterm quiz & spelled several words wrong... How can both those examples be considered mistakes? People consistently use the word "mistake" in both instances. You certainly didn't intend to spell those words wrong, but, you did intend to fool around, you just didn't intend to get caught!

  5. I have to say I agree completely. I strongly believe in personal responsibility and as a leader (although a junior one), I can understand how it's even more important to make a distinction between an accident and a mistake. I do my best to hold the people I work with accountable for their actions and making the mistake of misusing "accident" only contradicts the principles I hold my fellow Sailors to(seniors and subordinates). I've been guilty of carelessly using "accident" in the past but I can promise I will put some more thought into it in the future.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom! I always enjoy reading your posts.

  6. And thank you for your comment! I very much enjoyed our time serving together and continue to appreciate your (and so many others) willingness to hold all in a 360 degree array accountable. As we know, continual and constructive feedback is the best way we can make ourselves and those around us even better than we are. The contributions made to our team don't happen by accident. That is because we are not afraid to acknowledge (and learn from) our mistakes and we are not afraid to fail. Let's continue to be willing to make mistakes, stand ready to share what we learn from them, and help the rest of the team rid themselves of the word "accident".

  7. It’s really very nice and useful post.Thanks for sharing this with us!it’s my first visit.

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  9. Mistakes that leads to results are considered accidents and accidents stem from mistakes. Cause and Effect, with mistake being the cause, result being the effect and the entire system makes up an accident. Mistakes can happen without results which not lead into an accident but accidents can't happen without the result of a mistake(s). For example, I was hammering in a nail, I miscalculated my strike of the nail head (mistake) several times which resulted in no harm or damage. No accident. Another time I miscalculated my strike (mistake), I broke my finger (result) which was an accident. An accident is the result of a mistake causing injury or damage.