The One Thing We Can't Learn From Other People's Mistakes

I love the mistakes I've made in my life. What I love most are my biggest mistakes. But I am always mystified as to why we seem unable to learn from other people's missteps. Why must we travel down the same bumpy road, the one other people already regret traveling down?

This is a question a lot of people are asking New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Why didn't he learn from his former Republican colleague Chris Lee, who emailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist? Hasn't Congressman Weiner learned from other public scandals, that as long as you admit guilt and apologize, the American public always leans towards forgiveness?

I really don't think it's possible to truly learn from the mistakes of others.

I'm not suggesting we avoid trying to learn from other people's mistakes. I think we can take away big, big lessons from other people's missteps. These are lessons we can apply in similar situations within our lives or even apply in other parts of our life.

I am also not discounting the psychological factors that impact our decision-making -- that's a separate issue. What I am trying to get at is the importance of personal experience when making mistakes.

When we try to teach people about our mistakes, we falsely hope our experiences will prevent them from repeating history. There's no doubt that the lessons we learn from others may give us pause before we jump into the same missteps, but it usually doesn't prevent us from doing the same thing.

We hear from people who regret spending years in dead-end relationships, yet we still enter into relationships with toxic people.

We hear about the financial mistakes our parents or friends made, how their overspending saddled them with debt for years and prevented them from enjoying life. Yet, we still take credit card companies up on their offers and shop to our hearts content.

And we know that infidelity can end a relationship and hurt our loved ones, yet we still cheat.

Why do we need to suffer so much to learn a lesson? After all, it's not like we need to get hit by a car to learn to look both ways when crossing the street.

I think when it comes to mistakes, it is those related to passion, rather than logic, that we must make on our own before we can figure out what is bad for us. Another person's experience will not stop us from going there.

Why?

Because advice is made up of words, not feelings.

Think about a major blunder you've made in your life, one that has really shaped your identity.

Does anyone truly know how you felt about it? Can anyone really understand how and why that error shaped you? Probably not. We can impart lessons learned from our mistakes, we can tell people how we got to the point of making it, but it's impossible for us to share the feelings caused by our mistakes. There's no doubt logic plays a part in preventing us from making the same mistake twice. But when we conjure up feelings from past mistakes, we are less inclined to fall into the same trap.

The mistakes I've made in my life aren't unique to me. In fact, people I know very well made the same ones and warned me not to repeat history.

But I'm glad I did. Because until I felt the sting of disappointment, I always thought I would be different than them.

Now, I know exactly how it feels.