Maturity—The Value of Learning


Maturity is more often developed out of our losses than our wins. But how you face those losses really matters.

Fred Smith, a mentor of mine for many years, used to tell me, “I don’t think God is as interested in our success as He is in our maturity.” That is a sobering thought, but I agree with it. Maturity is more often developed out of our losses than our wins. But how you face those losses really matters. People suffer losses, make mistakes, and endure bad experiences all the time without developing maturity. So how do you become mature?

First, you have to learn from your mistakes and losses. Learning is what investor Warren Buffett has done. People today know him as one of the richest men in the world. This elder statesman is well respected for his financial skill and wisdom, but those qualities have come as a result of learning from his losses. He says, “I made plenty of mistakes and I’ll make plenty more mistakes, too. That’s part of the game. You’ve just got to make sure that the right things overcome the wrong ones.”

Learning from our mistakes is wonderful, but it means little if you don’t know how to turn the lesson into a benefit. That comes when we take what we’ve learned and apply it to our future actions. That’s what I have tried to do, though it took me a while to learn how to do it. Here are some examples of difficulties I faced, how they affected me emotionally, and how I tried to change my thinking and find the benefit of the experience:

• When I was over my head writing a Bible commentary: I felt discouraged, I wanted to quit, and I defined myself as soft. However, I kept working, I got help, and I acquired new ways to learn. Two years later I finished the project.

The benefit of the experience: I redefined myself as tenacious. And I never again allowed the challenges of a writing project to prevent me from following through and finishing it.

• When I had a heart attack: I realized I had taken my health for granted. I defined myself as undisciplined, and I worried about what the future might hold. But I allowed the experience to change the way I ate and exercised. I began to swim daily. I redefined myself as disciplined in this area for the first time in my life.

The benefit: I am living a healthy life every day so that I have additional years with Margaret, our children, and our grandchildren.

• When my mother died: I lost the person who gave me unconditional love every day for the first sixty-two years of my life. I was overcome. I felt lost. How many people have someone like that in their lives? And to lose that! But then I realized what a gift she was, and I felt grateful.

The benefit: I determined to be that unconditionally loving person in more people’s lives.

• When I lost a million dollars in a bad business decision: I felt sick because we had to sell some investments to cover the losses, and we couldn’t really afford it. I chastised myself because I thought I had been too careless.

The benefit: I made some necessary changes in my decision-making process, and I felt much wiser because of the experience.

If you want to gain the benefits learned from your losses and mistakes, don’t allow them to take you captive emotionally. Banker and speaker Herbert V. Prochnow asserted, “The fellow who never makes a mistake takes his orders from one who does.” Why? Because the person who advances in his or her career takes risks, fails, learns, and applies the lesson to gain the benefit. Observe any successful person, and you’ll see someone who doesn’t see a mistake as the enemy.

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