That Time I Screwed Up

All over the publishing industry we hear tales of the many times an author with a great book had to offer their work all over town, only to be turned down over and over.  A Wrinkle in Time got the thumbs down from 25 different publishers. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had ten rejections, then a publisher’s eight-year-old daughter told him to back it. Chicken Soup for the Soul had more than 100 rejections.


Venture capital firms also sometimes keep track of companies they had a chance to fund, and passed over. One outfit famously admits to having turned up its nose at Google, Facebook, AirBnb, Apple, Fedex, PayPal, and Zoom (among others). They call this their anti-portfolio.

Oops squared.

I’m not a New York editor or a venture capitalist, so I don’t have an anti-portfolio of best sellers or blue chip stocks, but I did get to thinking about that time I bought a horse… I’ve purchased many horses, but I hit a horseless stretch when my long-time trainers and friends moved to Florida. After a few years of no horse and no riding lessons, I decided I was ready to get back in the saddle. My old trainers found me the perfect horse.

Dante was (is!) a wonderful guy. He’s a cross between a Thoroughbred and a draft breed, which can result in a big, twitchy wingnut, OR it can result in a mount with athleticism , good sense, and a comfy build. Dante got all the right genes, and I was delighted with him.

I was not delighted with riding in sub-freezing temperatures, without a familiar trainer to help me learn to communicate with my new horse. I wasn’t motivated enough to ride alone (and that’s not safe), and it became clear I had acquired a very expensive animal that I no longer had the chops to fit into my life. With the help of my friends, I found him a wonderful, forever home, though that process was protracted and not easy on the horse.

The decision to buy Dante was an oops. When I face it squarely as such, I can look at why I made that mistake–I missed my ridin’ buddies. I hadn’t found any other tolerable exercise, I was lonely for a time when I had had a greater sense of physical competence. Riding got me out of the lawyer/writer two step and around people who shared my values. I wasn’t buying a horse so much as I was trying to recreate some much-missed joys.

I haven’t purchased another equine since making that mistake. I have a wonderful lesson horse, whom I do not own but am welcome to spoil, pet, ride, compete, and hug. My barn friends now are not quite the close-knit circle I was part of before, but they are good folks and I am always glad to see them.

In my headlong rush to cope day to day, I sometimes don’t have the time to reflect on missed opportunities, bad decisions, or mistakes, but I think that exercise can be revealing. I’ve found a way to be in the saddle that works for who I am now, and I will also think long and hard before I ever buy another horse.

Do you ponder your boo-boos? Are there some lessons you had to learn the hard way? To three commenters, I’ll send signed copies of How to Catch A Duke!



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20 comments on “That Time I Screwed Up

  1. I have had to learn a few lessons the hard way!

    Two years ago, I was asked to take on an officer position in my club. I sad no several times but capitulated. Bad move. Big mistake.
    I was awarded the club’s Distinguished Service Award and attended the first meeting. Boy, was I surprised at what was said and the actions of the members. Not for me. I did the best job I could and left after a member was extremely rude to me. I had a choice- deal with this situation or cut line. I left. I should have followed my original instincts and said no.

    I do my best to treat people the way I want to be treated. In reality, this does not always work out.

    And yes, I learned my lesson…follow your gut!

    PS- I am reading Stephen and Abigails story tonight.

  2. I do ponder my mistakes but usually in a “how could you have done such a dumb thing?” way as opposed to a “how can you learn from this mistake?” way. But I’m pretty skilled at ignoring unpleasantries and don’t dwell overmuch. At my age, though, I do recognize that I cannot and will not do all the wonderful things I envisioned when I was young, but I am able to find things I like to do that I can. My biggest enjoyment, as it has been most of my life, is found in the pages of a book. These days, however, I’ve learned that I don’t have to finish a book if it isn’t doing anything for me as there are so many books available, both new and old, to explore. I’m looking forward to my next Grace Burrowes-engineered escape soon.

  3. I was just talking about this with a colleague yesterday! It can be especially painful when we hurt others with our mistakes. And can be a little guilt-inducing when we benefit from the learnings of past mistakes that harmed others.

    But there’s nowhere I’m more grateful to learn from my failures and practice my learning than in parenting….

  4. Thanks for sharing this Grace…I’ve also learned lessons similar to your experience with Dante, where I made choices for where I thought I should be instead for where I actually am in my life.

    A couple years ago I made the decision to use a life insurance payment to pay off my graduate school student loans because I hated having the debt even though the loans were consolidated and had a relatively low interest rate.

    I’m in my late 40s and have never been a homeowner and this past year I’ve really regretted not using that money to invest in a home of my own. The insurance money came to me after my father died and I know he meant it to help me with a more secure future. A property would’ve given me more security in the long term than the immediate relief I felt when I paid off my student loans.

    In hindsight, I have chalked up that choice to me not taking time to really sit and think because I was so stricken with grief from the loss of my dad and tied in knots about my responsibility as executor of his estate, small as it was.

    My lesson learned is simple… don’t be hasty in times of emotional upheaval, which is hard for me as I like to make choices and move forward without too much rumination. But I’ve found that just occurs later on once I realise my short sightedness.

  5. This was one of the earliest lessons I learned in life. I don’t know how old I was, but I was a pretty small child. My mother was frying eggs and putting them on a plate located near the burner. She told me not to touch the plate because it was hot. So, of course, I had to touch it.

    As she was treating my burned fingers I remember her saying to me, “You know Mary, sometimes we can learn things the easy way, but sometimes we just have to learn them the hard way.” I would like to say that I never had to learn things the hard way again, but unfortunately that’s not true (smile).

  6. I try not to ponder my boo-boos now. I used to worry about everything; I was not just pondering, I was obsessing about my mistakes or what I perceived to be my mistakes. Every day, we make mistakes. They might be as silly as missing the wastepaper basket or as big as forgetting an important deadline.I would worry about everything I did and if it could be considered a mistake. But I learned my lesson.

    I regretted for YEARS allowing my husband’s former supervisor to pick out a new car for me (he had connections and could get it for us cheap). I hated that car; it was impractical for me with 3 young sons and there was not enough room for my groceries in the trunk. It was white and always looked dirty even if I washed it every week, and with Midwestern winters it looked yuck! It WAS fun to drive but that was it’s only good point. It also became, within 2 years, unreliable. Hubby thought we got a *lemon* but I was DELIGHTED we needed to replace it when the repair bills started to pile up. My lesson from that experience was to NEVER allow someone else to pick out a car for me or any other large purchases. What was I thinking?

  7. Today I have had the biggest wobble in my life since 1994.I am 73 years old and living on my own.Back then I finaly admitted my marriage of 25 years was over.No longer prepared to take such abusive bahaviour.I had stuck it out for the sake of the children.When they were carving out their lives has young adults I said no more!!.Recently my son spoke of those times and said”mum why did you not leave him when we were little “.I thought I was saving you from hard times because it would have been a struggle.(hardly any help available then also the stigma)His reply “” but we would have been a lot happier” “.So because my marriage was so difficult I made a vow not to involve myself in looking for love again.26 years later and having those years being filled with many happy events—friends family grand children holidays retirement why did I have the biggest wobble for many years!!!.Because of yesterday’s funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.Of our Queen sitting alone wiping away tears.Her husband of 73 years gone.Loneliness and loss.Today I felt so lonely and questioned my decision that I had made many years ago— not to have someone by my side in my golden sunset years.A mistake in making a vow —-we shall never know.Tomorrow I may feel better.Maybe it’s because of the covid.The old Duke would say “come on get on with it”” so yes mistakes have been made but what will be will be.

  8. I do nothing _but_ ponder my boo-boos!
    The problem with hindsight for me, though, is that it is usually 20/20… and I find I need to try and be gentler to myself when I’ve made a terrible decision without all the data needed…
    Or, when a decision is regretted when the situation changes. (e.g. deciding to go to school with a terrific architecture program, but before declaring it as a major, the school decides to drop it as a major… that’s just an example… I’ve never wanted to be an architect.)

  9. Mmm, i made the wrong job field choice at the beginning and had to switch partway through, which had some definite downsides! The right choice, but much better had I not started down the wrong path to begin with. That was definitely a learning experience!!

  10. Happy Sunday! I think that sometimes mistakes and regrets are hard to forget. Probably I will regret not sending my Dad to Japan before he died. As a survivor of the prejudice of WWII, he loved his country the USA but wanted to see Japan as a visitor. He passed away suddenly a few months before he was able to go. That is a regret. I think I always feel bad about the things I did not do for others. Have a blessed week!

  11. I have an oops I regret to this day, 2 electives shy of a double major, only 2 200 level classes & I didn’t attempt it!!

  12. I am one who ponders her boo boos. I’d like to say I’ve learned from all of them, however I would be fibbing – if only because of not remembering every single mistake I’ve made. I try to learn and not make the same mistakes.

  13. I remember the skating coach telling my kids, “If you aren’t falling, you aren’t learning.”

    My errors in judgment are painful enough, but to be supportive watching someone else make one, eyes wide shut, is excruciating. (Especially if you are funding it.) Refraining from saying “I told you so,” afterwards is also nigh impossible. That person is kicking themselves hard enough as is.

  14. I learned not to be such a milquetoast at work and to stand up for myself. For many years, I put my own needs second in the workplace and allowed miss-placed loyalty to keep me in a job longer than I should have stayed.

  15. I have mistakes littering my life everywhere, I try to learn what I can from them but have had to do a lot of work just to get to a place where I can grow from them. One regret I have is having studied abroad in the middle east in college after having already lived in the region earlier, I wish I had instead stuck with my original idea in South America. Not a big regret because one of my oldest and dearest friends is from that experience and I did learn a lot and get to see some amazing sites that have unfortunately been destroyed since. Also I wouldn’t date a couple of folks I dated if I could do it again, as I didn’t really know myself enough to realize they were a bad fit for me. I regret the hurt that caused others and myself. I mostly wish it didn’t take me so long to grow up / mature. I was trying, and I kept making mistakes that maybe I should have seen coming, but I try to be compassionate to myself and see that I was doing the best I could and it is ok that I struggled. On a practical note, I wish I had prioritized saving a bit more but I had some amazing experiences with the cash that didn’t get saved, so maybe I just had to develop the wisdom to see what is an option and what is an opportunity.

  16. I have believed for a long time, probably over 50 years, that our souls were put on this earth to learn lessons. If we don’t learn the lesson with the first bad experience, the lesson comes back and the experience is worse/harder. Wash, rinse, repeat. So every time I’ve had a painful experience I try to evaluate what I might have done differently so I don’t have to go through THAT again. I’m now much more tolerant of others “mistakes” because I see them as learning opportunities instead.

  17. Mine are work actions, travel plans and life decisions that can cause me to worry unnecessarily, be cautious in similar situations or get down on myself about in low times. Others u can look back as growth moments or lessons not to repeat or use as a cautionary tale for other workers

  18. Have missed so much since COVID and as a 70+ year old, it’s really difficult. Your books (and I have ALL of them) make such a difference. You really understand the human condition in all it’s glory and shame. Just wanted to say thank you and please keep writing.