In January of this year, baseball legend Mariano Rivera became the first player in history to be unanimously elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. To put that into perspective, even legends like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Sandy Koufax were not unanimously elected.
But Rivera - known throughout his Yankees career as The Sandman - was not always Hall of Fame material. In 1995, his first full season in the majors, he pitched 61 innings, gave up 11 home runs, 43 runs, and walked 30 batters. His ERA (Earned-Run Average) was an awful 5.51. That means if he pitched a full nine innings every time he went out, he would give up 5.51 runs per game.
That’s really bad.
The Yankees placed him on waivers at the end of that season and made him available to other teams, but nobody wanted him.
So the Yankees kept him and moved him to the bullpen as a relief pitcher.
One day while he warmed up before a game, his fastball kept moving a little to the left just as it crossed the plate, which caused the catcher to miss the ball. Annoyed, the catcher asked what Rivera was doing, and Rivera said he didn’t know. He realized he had unknowingly altered his grip on the ball a little, which is what caused it to cut to the left at the last second. That night, he threw his new pitch and struck out all three batters he faced. The Yankees coaching staff took notice, and soon made him one of their go-to relief pitchers. After a couple of seasons, he became the permanent closer - the one who pitches the final inning to secure the win.
The pitch he accidentally discovered became known as the cut fastball, or cutter. It was one of the only pitches he threw. Batters knew it was coming, yet they still couldn’t hit it. That’s how incredible it was.
This year, Rivera was unanimously elected into the Hall of Fame and will forever be known as the greatest closer of all time.
All because of a mistake.
SOME MISTAKES ARE REVOLUTIONARY
Like the cut fastball, some mistakes lead to incredible discoveries. Much of our modern knowledge and technology is the result of a mistake.
Penicillin was discovered because Alexander Fleming left a bunch of petri dishes in a bacteria lab while on vacation and they began to grow mold, some of which proved to be effective in fighting off infections.
The Slinky was invented by Richard James, an engineer trying to develop springs capable of keeping cargo steady on ships. While working one day, he accidentally knocked one off the shelf and watched as it “walked” itself down the stairs.
Charles Goodyear - yes, the tire guy - mixed rubber with sulfur and accidentally left it on a lit stove. What resulted was the strong-yet-flexible material we know today as plastic.
Sometimes the stars align and the yet-to-be-discovered facts of nature or physics reveal themselves when we aren’t expecting it. While the disappointment of a perceived mistake may sting for a time, it’s easy to overcome when it leads to a revolutionary discovery or induction to the Hall of Fame.
SOME MISTAKES ARE CATASTROPHIC
But not every mistake ends well.
For example, on April 20th, 2010, an explosion on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico caused an underwater pipe to burst, sending millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. 11 people died and 17 others were injured. The water became severely polluted. Fish and wildlife died. People along the coast who relied on the fishing industry to make a living had to foreclose on homes, sell their boats, and shut down their businesses. Several attempts were made to seal the damaged pipe, but it wasn’t officially closed until September 19th of that year, five months after the initial explosion. Overall it is estimated that the burst pipe sent 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The damage caused by this catastrophic mistake is still being undone today.
HOW TO RECOVER FROM DAILY MISTAKES
Most of our mistakes, though, are neither revolutionary nor catastrophic. The vast majority of them come in the form of slight mental errors at work, an angry response to a spouse, or a fender bender when we run a stop sign.
In the moment, these mistakes may not seem egregious. But when we don’t recover from them well, when we allow them to linger in our psyche and replay them over and over in our minds, those small mistakes start to pile up. When we can’t let them go, they shape the narrative of how we see ourselves, how we engage with people, and how we function in our various roles as a spouse, a parent, an employee, and a friend.
The sociological and psychological term for this is resilience. Resilience is our ability to recover from mistakes, tragedy, or trauma. Everyone finds a way to cope with these in one way or another, but the stronger your resilience the sooner you recover, and you do so in ways that promote growth and a positive view of yourself.
HOW TO BUILD RESILIENCE
A lot of research has been published in the last five years about the source of resilience, especially in children. Much of our ability to cope with mistakes, tragedy, or trauma starts in childhood. Resilience is measured according to what has become known as ACE’s, or Adverse Childhood Experiences. Your score is determined according to the number of adverse experiences you had as a child. Typically, the lower the number of adverse experiences, the higher the resilience, though there are exceptions.
Resilience is what our minds require to let go of mistakes and “get back on the horse,” so to speak. Psychologists and sociologists have identified three primary ways to build resilience, even as an adult.
Listen to the people who believe in you.
Relationships matter more than any other factor when it comes to our resilience. If you ever hear a story or read a biography about a person who grew up surrounded by poverty and violence only to make it out and become highly successful in their career, you will almost always hear them talk about one or two specific people who not only pushed them toward success, but also reminded them of their worth, their gifts, and their ability to succeed. A relationship with someone who believes in you and reminds you of your own goodness will create more resilience than anything else.
So, when you make a mistake - even a catastrophic one - don’t dismiss the voices that are on your side. Let those be the compass through which you navigate difficulty and struggle because they are often from the people who know you best and who you care about most.
Do the work to make sense of what happened
The events of our lives shape the story we tell about ourselves. Our life narrative is crucial to our mental and emotional well-being. If there is unresolved trauma or struggle from your past, it manifests itself in some way in the present. But, if you do the work of processing past events, you can work them into your larger narrative without giving them control over you.
So, for example, if you were to have a mental lapse with a patient and accidentally prescribe a medication to which they have a severe allergic reaction, you could build resilience by identifying what factors at the time led to your mistake, how your life is affected by it now, and how to move forward with your confidence fully intact.
This can be done with a therapist or counselor. It can also be done with a journal. The point is to work the moment into your consciousness in a way that doesn’t topple you or cause mental and emotional harm down the road.
Cultivate resilience through focused time of prayer and meditation.
If you’re religious, daily prayer is a wonderful way to build resilience because it helps you see yourself as part of something greater. That expanded perspective allows us to see our situation in the context of the entire universe, and when we look from that angle, it doesn’t seem quite as severe. Prayer also centers us on the Truth. If we truly messed up, we are more capable of owning our mistakes and seeking forgiveness for them when our hearts and minds pursue what’s True through prayer.
Another way to cultivate inner resilience is through the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness has grown in popularity in the West over the last decade or so and is, in general terms, focused or enhanced awareness at any given time. During mindfulness meditation, the focus is on the breath as it enters and exits through the nose.
One of its most basic practices during mindful meditation is to gently return to the breath once your mind has wandered. The breath is the object of focus for a time, but the mind will inevitably wander into thoughts about the past or future events, about tasks that need to be done, or even into imaginative fantasies. The goal is not to keep the focus on the breath during 100% of the meditation time; the goal is to notice when your mind has wandered, and then return gently to the breath without berating yourself for a lapse in concentration. This teaches you to be gentle with yourself for being human, and serves as a reminder that the right path is always just a step away.
I’LL BE NEEDED AGAIN TOMORROW
One last story about Mariano Rivera.
During a series in Baltimore, the Yankees came back in the ninth inning to take the lead, and Mariano Rivera closed out the game for the win. After the game, reporters gathered around him outside the locker room as he ate an ice cream cone, talked about the game, and joked around with everyone there.
The next night, the Yankees came back again in the ninth inning, only this time when Rivera came in to pitch, he gave up the go-ahead runs and the Yankees lost.
After the game, reporters again gathered around him outside the locker room. But just like the night before, Rivera ate an ice cream cone, talked about the game, and joked around with everyone there.
When one reporter asked how he could be so calm and upbeat after a tough loss, he simply said, “Because I’ll be needed again tomorrow.”
That’s the mark of resilience. No matter what mistakes you made in the past, no matter what mistakes you’ll make today, you will be needed again tomorrow. Keep yourself mentally, emotionally, and relationally prepared to enter every situation fully present and at your absolute best.