4 Big Mistakes You Should Avoid Making

UPDATED: January 3, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 25, 2018

Early in my career, I was named pastor of a church in California. To my congregants it was a well-loved worship hall, steeped in tradition. To me it was an overcrowded building in a less-than-desirable location.

Within two years, I talked the leadership into moving and expanding. I found a great spot with a manageable price tag. In my youthfulness and eagerness, I thought building a church was as easy as hiring an architect, an engineer and a construction firm. I was so wrong.

Related: 7 Ways to Bounce Back After a Mistake

Even then California was a highly regulated state, and I encountered one blow after another: Local officials nixed the first design; endangered birds restricted construction on the second. We proposed building elsewhere on the property only to discover endangered plants. We relocated again and found remnants of an ancient indigenous population. Years passed and we kept doling out money—mandatory ecological studies, environmental mitigation requirements, costly new building codes.

With foresight and forethought, you can spare yourself the wounds that result from mistakes.

If I had bothered to do my homework, acknowledge my inexperience and consult with experts, we would have built that church years sooner and at much less expense.

I learned to accept my error. I discovered the value of growing from my mistakes and coming to terms with missed opportunities. With time, though, I’ve come to realize that many common errors—and the regrets that follow—can be avoided. With foresight and forethought, you can spare yourself the wounds that result from mistakes like these.

1. Spending too little time with the right people

Nothing is more limiting than being with the wrong people. They drag you down, limit your growth, distract your attention and inflict negative thinking upon you. In contrast, the right people are like your personal cheerleading squad, pushing you to victory.

Determine the kind of people who inspire you to be your best. These include those who…

  • Offer unconditional love. They appreciate me for who I am—weaknesses, faults, idiosyncrasies and all.
  • Add value to me. They make me a better person through their wisdom, honesty and experience.
  • Continually grow. People who value their own development will encourage yours.
  • Walk with me. Those who support, celebrate and have a stake in my journey will make my road less bumpy.
  • Enjoy life. Their optimism, enthusiasm and sense of adventure are contagious.

2. Not saying what you need to say

Admittedly, this is much easier for me now. It takes a certain courage to speak your mind, especially when what you need to say is not what others want to hear. I consider my many voices, and I tap into the ones that allow me to express what’s important to me.

  • My gift voice reflects my best talents, puts my passion into words and allows me to pour into others.
  • My character voice expresses the values I believe in.
  • My experience voice is my teaching voice, the one that enables me to help others grow.
  • My heart voice conveys my feelings. This voice causes regret more than any of the others if it doesn’t speak up.
  • My dream voice announces my aspirations. Letting others hear them is one way to ensure they get done.
  • My question voice is the one I wish I’d used back in California. This voice humbles me and frees me to say, “I don’t understand” or “Can you help me?”

Related: 10 Mistakes Smart People Never Make Twice

3. Not taking action on worthwhile goals

I think this is the biggest and most common of regrets. It’s procrastination. It’s knowing you should do something but doing nothing. It’s getting ready to get ready, planning to start, intending to act. Good intentions never accomplish anything.

To keep myself on track, I spend a few minutes every night making a list of what I wish to accomplish the next day. I’m up early to tackle those tasks. By the time my colleagues begin their workdays, I’ve already put in a couple of hours.

This schedule does not work for everyone. Honor your internal clock and work around the needs of your family. No matter your lifestyle, find your most productive, least interrupted times of the day and put them to work. Write out a daily action plan and act on it. There is nothing more troubling than a dream lying dormant.

4. Allowing others to control your destiny

I studied theology in college. One of my favorite books was Here I Stand: A Biography of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton. It details the demand for the faith leader to conform and his steadfast refusal to do so. “I cannot and I will not recant anything,” Luther reportedly said when he was called before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”

We all face pressure to go along with other people’s agendas, whether it’s your buddies persuading you to drink a beer rather than hit the books or your colleagues hijacking your day with endless emails or excessive banter. It’s letting someone else dictate your life’s course, even if that person is a well-meaning parent or spouse. It takes courage to break away. I still remember the day, at 32, when I approached my dad—the most influential person in my life—to ask for permission to leave his church in order to find my own path. “Son,” he said, “I think you’re making the right decision.” Neither of us ever looked back.

You’ll never remove all regrets. We are imperfect, mistake-prone beings after all. But we all seem to trip over the same set of stumbling blocks. If we see these hazards on the horizon, we can turn our wheels well before we strike them.

Learning to accept one’s errors is important; learning to avoid them in the first place is where real growth begins.

Related: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.