Five Steps to Overcome The Biggest Mistake in Life


he biggest mistake you make in life is thinking that it is going somewhere, that there is an endpoint, a destination, and that it will all be OK once you get there. But there is no destination. Chasing after your goal in life is a fool’s errand. Change is the norm in life. Life is a process, a set of experiments to continuously learn, grow and change.

Even if you got to where you want to go, you would find that you and the world changed in the process, and the destination is no longer what you thought it would be.

Accept Change

The trick is to accept change as a part of your life. Change is a good thing that you need in your life. Without change, there can be no learning and no growth. There is only stagnation without learning and growth, and in a fast-moving, modern world, stagnation is the equivalent of death. So you need to embrace change. You need to do more than accept it as an unavoidable reality of life; you need to embrace it as a central part of your life. You need to design your life around positive and productive change and harness that change to help you become your best possible self.

Change is not easy.

Improvement can be painful. In my case, I avoided change for far too long because I feared the pain that came with it. I waited until my current reality became more painful than change before I made a move.

The status is not quo.

It seems odd when I look back on it to think I was defending a status quo I actively disliked. I was putting energy into staying in the same place when I should have been using that energy to move myself to a better one. Why would I do that?

Cognitive dissonance

Mostly it was to avoid cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort that comes from trying to hold two contradictory beliefs. I wanted to believe that all the work I had done to get where I was hadn’t been wasted or foolish while simultaneously facing the fact I wasn’t becoming the person I could be. The easiest way to do that had been to avoid thinking about the issue at all. So, for years I was like an ostrich with my head in the ground, trying to ignore how much my life was not going the way I wanted.

If you don’t change, then change will be forced on you.

What I needed was an event so big I could not ignore it. That happened with the worst vacation of my life. After that, it became clear that the pain of remaining in my current situation was worse than the pain it would take to change. That is the situation that usually causes a big life change like I made, but you don’t have to do that to improve your life. You don’t have to wait until things become unbearable to change. Instead, you can identify the things that are not working and start making them better where you are via small changes right now.

Upgrade Yourself

The way I look at change now is as an upgrade. My iPhone regularly gets updates to its operating system. The updates fix bugs, add new features and make the phone better. The Apple corporation builds the updates based on experience with the old operating system. They look at what does and does not work to identify where it can be improved.

There are no mistakes.

The software designers never see the old version of the operating system as a mistake. Instead, they see it as the best they could do at the time. But they also know that they must keep improving if they want their product to stay on the cutting edge of technology. If they don’t continually improve, they will get left behind.

Focus on small changes.

In your life, you have accomplished some amazing things. You should be proud of what you have done. Good for you. You have done well, and that is good news. The even better news is that you can do better and become more.

Upgrade yourself.

You can upgrade yourself to a newer and better version. You don’t need to remake yourself completely. Transforming yourself is a task that is too intimidating and likely unnecessary. Instead, the idea is to make small, incremental improvements.

You can do things without making a major change in your life today, which can add to significant improvements over time. Commit to drinking one less soda per day. Or take a walk each day, read ten pages from a good book, and get to bed thirty minutes earlier. None of those are big commitments, but they pay big dividends in the long term.

Focus on the Process and Not the Results.

Life rarely, if ever, works out as anyone has planned, but that does not mean it is a failure. Look for the changes you can make today rather than wait for the perfect time and the ideal plan.

Several years ago, I read the book Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose and was struck by how the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to discover a route to the Pacific Ocean with no map of how to get there. No one had ever done it before, so there were no references to follow. All the two men knew for sure was that the Pacific Ocean lay to the west, and if they just kept going west, they would eventually find it. Along the way, the co-captains learned from indigenous people about the area they were in and how best to cross it, but those local people also did not know a route to the Pacific Ocean. Yet the intrepid duo maintained confidence that they would eventually make it to the Pacific if they just kept moving west, and they did.

You need a direction rather than a destination.

Lewis and Clark did something that had never been done before. They had the idea of where they wanted to go but no clear map of how to get there. So they had to find their way by continuing west via the best route that presented itself. Improving yourself is the same kind of challenge. You can’t know for sure where you are going to end up. All you can do is follow your inner compass and keep moving in the direction you want to go by the best route that presents itself.

There is No Destination.

No matter how far you go, you will always find there is a little farther you can go. The difference between your journey and that of Lewis and Clark is that your journey has no destination. Once they got to the shore of the Pacific Ocean, Lewis and Clark had achieved their goal, but your journey has no end.

Beyond the mountains, more mountains.

As the old Haitian maxim says, Dye mon, gen mon (beyond the mountains, more mountains.) If you have hiked in the mountains, you know what that saying means. What do you see when you get to the top of one mountain? More mountains.

When you start to build your best possible self, it is the same. Each milestone you achieve will bring into view the next milestone on your horizon. It is an exciting process if you see it as an opportunity for continuous growth but frustrating if you live with the illusion that you are working toward a goal where you can stop striving to improve.


Your life does not have a destination. You will never be exonerated. Instead, you must constantly strive to learn, grow and improve. The only alternative is death, real or metaphorical. So accept the challenge. Strive to improve a little bit each day. Trust the process, do the work to move forward with a direction, without a destination. You will be amazed just how far you can go beyond what you thought was your goal.

To get started, you don’t need a destination, just a direction.

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