Beware The Big Mistake

Posted on February 8, 2017 by Robert Ringer


Since so many famous people seem to be ruining their careers these days through a lack of good judgment and self-discipline, I thought this would be a good time to update an article I wrote some years back about the importance of avoiding what I like to refer to as “The Big Mistake.”

Relatively recent examples of high-profile people who fell victim to The Big Mistake include, among others, Michael Jackson, former Senator John Edwards, social-media creep Anthony Weiner, baseball great Curt Schilling (who lost his entire fortune with one roll of the dice on a video-game venture), and Ray Rice, ex-Baltimore Ravens running back (who got caught on video decking his fiancée on an elevator).

Then, of course, there’s Horrible Hillary, who let her hatefulness jump out from behind that fake smile on at least two occasions when she referred to half of Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorables” and when she spoke to an audience of coal miners and assured them that if she were elected, she would see to it that they would lose their jobs.

Which brings me to “Tom,” a popular senior in my son’s high school who sported a near-perfect academic record. He was also a starter on the varsity basketball team and involved in many school activities. He was a shoo-in to be accepted by a number of top colleges.

Then, overnight, Tom became a poster child for the case of EQ being more important than IQ. Notwithstanding his stellar record of making consistently intelligent decisions throughout his young life, his “emotional intelligence” (sometimes referred to as “EQ”) failed him when he most needed it.

Tom was caught selling drugs in school and was immediately expelled. The news stunned the entire school community. I didn’t know the young man personally, but I had heard enough about him to be aware that he was highly respected and popular with students, faculty, and parents alike.

So what on earth was an intelligent, all-American young man like Tom thinking when he brought drugs to school? I can only conjecture that it was a combination of not thinking much at all (at least not about the possible consequences of his actions) mixed with a bit of senior omnipotence.

This sad and shocking incident struck a bell with me, because I have long been fascinated by the ramifications of “The Big Mistake” — a mistake so major that it can destroy such precious assets as reputation, marriage, and earning capacity. In extreme cases, it can even cost a person his life — and often has.

What makes it so tricky is that the form of The Big Mistake can vary widely. Some Big Mistakes are made impulsively, on the spur of the moment, while others are made after considerable reflection. In the latter case, the problem usually is that the person allows his intellect to get trampled by his emotions.

So the question is, how can you improve your chances of avoiding The Big Mistake?

I believe the most important thing is to constantly remind yourself that, as a human being, you are not omnipotent, so there are mistakes that are so bad you cannot reverse them. That being the case, if your gut tells you something is wrong, don’t wave it aside with a cavalier attitude that “it will somehow work out.” Trust your intellect and gut feelings rather than your emotions.

On the other side of the coin, it’s good to know that people usually get a second chance. In the case of my son’s schoolmate Tom, he’s trying to convert The Big Mistake into the most positive learning experience of his life. At his age, and with all that he has going for him, he has a lifetime to overcome his monstrous error in judgment.

If Tom has truly learned from his experience and realizes just how costly one major error in judgment can be, he’s in a position to become something greater than he might have been had he not made The Big Mistake in the first place. And someday he will have the opportunity to reap extra dividends from his experience by telling his children and grandchildren about how a foolish mistake almost destroyed his life.

And so it is with all of us. If you’ve made The Big Mistake and are now suffering as a consequence, you already have the tools to overcome it. I’m not talking about resources, but resourcefulness. Most of all, I’m talking about free will. Making a comeback is pretty much in your hands if you are committed to do it.

Finally, I should also point out that if you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid The Big Mistake until now, the last thing in the world you want to do is become overconfident. When you think about what General David Petraeus did to his impeccable lifetime reputation near the end of his career, it underscores the fact that no one is infallible.

Everyday failure is a stepping-stone to success, but The Big Mistake can be a stepping-stone to irreversible disaster. It’s important to be action oriented, but it’s just as important to use common sense and vigilance when it comes to weighing the downside consequences of your decisions.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

33 responses to “Beware The Big Mistake”

  1. Chris says:

    Such great advice, thank you Mr. Ringer

  2. Reality Seeker says:

    Regarding Hillary and the rest of the dungy Dems: their big mistake(s) were made decades ago when they bought into collectivistism. And it was no mistake on the part of millions of awake and aware people to point out the obvious fraud and treason. I suppose you could say people like the Serpent of Satan ( aka Lady Gaga) make mistakes by revealing who they really are and who they really serve, but those mistakes are made in our favor, viz., we who believe in God, freedom and goodness.

    I was commenting to my spouse about Lady Gaga's half-assed performance during the Superbowl: " I wish Lady Gag-me would accidently tangle her neck on that rope and hang herself, then we'd actually get a show worth watching"….. Let's all hope these collectivists keep right on making mistakes— really big ones….

    • Robert Diamond says:

      I don't think Hillary and the Dems really believe in collectivism at all. They are smart people who know it does not work for the masses – but they do know it works very well for those at the top. In a collectivist system those at the top become massively wealthy, privileged and as long as they are in favor above the law. A good gig for those who get to the top. For some examples just look to China, Russia, Cuba or any other collectivist system.

      • Reality Seeker says:

        Decades ago, when they were very young, they believed in collectivism. That was a big mistake. Upon entering politics that true belief was quickly replaced with the desire for the power to control government. That was another big mistake. Many big mistakes followed. And America suffered.

        So, yes, I agree with you that Hillary and her ilk don't really believe in what they say, and they haven't for a long time , the political rhetoric is for public consumption. Yes, for them it's all about power, not altruism. At least Trump admits he's "greedy, greedy, greedy". An individual like President Trump is a lot more trustworthy simply because he's honest and he wants to make rationally selfish deals.

      • Harry says:

        Exactly so. I've written similar letters to the local editor. What you've stated here is so hugely important to know, but the dumbmasses of followers on the left just have no idea what they're supporting. If they only knew recent world history. Just what the hell DO they learn in college these days?

  3. Scott theczech says:

    Have you ever come close to a "big mistake," and if so, would you mind telling us about it?

  4. Gordon says:

    In my experience, both personal and by observation of others, big mistakes don't happen in a vacuum. For example, I would be surprised if Tom was caught the first time he dealt drugs. It's possible, but typically people make a mistake, suffer no serious consequences, or even get what they want, and thus see no reason to change.

    But eventually the odds catch up with them, and they get caught, either by the authorities, or simply by the natural consequences of their actions. It is at this moment that they must make their critical decision: Are they going to accept responsibility for their mistake and work to overcome it, or are they going to blame others, the system, their bad luck, or whatever.

    It is only by accepting responsibility for our person actions, especially our mistakes, that we have hope of moving forward and regaining our self-respect and the respect of others.

  5. Jay says:

    Aren't gut feelings emotions?

  6. Raymond says:

    Before blaming ourselves for having made a big mistake, let’s read a fantastic book demonstrating how little we know about what drives us to take decisions. One usually believes that we are couscious beings, deciding what we are doing. But many a time, this is not the case. Too often, it is our subconscious mind and/or our endocrine glands that make us act as we actually do. The title of this book is “A Mind of Its Own”, how your brain distorts and deceives, by Cordelia Fine. This book taught me modesty, and removed from my conscience a lot of blame against myself.

    • Phil says:

      There is that, but I can say from personal experience that placing the responsibility on myself to at least dig my way back out was key to overcoming a series of idiotic actions as a kid. Mr Ringer's book (miraculously) had been purchased by my Dad (Winning Thru Intimidation), and for some reason struck a chord as I sat on the bed 35 years or so ago. Then I read more of them. Thank God. While there were external pressures as a teen – namely, being victimized by merciless bullying (which for some reason I still feel a twinge of shame about today, those priests can really do a number on you as a child), ultimately I responded in a terribly self defeating manner. Still, I know I am a better person having been through self-humiliation and overcoming it.

      We have to accept responsibility to move forward.

    • Gary Waltrip says:

      I will order that book. Thanks for the tip. Robert's book "Looking Out for Number 1" is also a must-read on this topic.
      Volumes could be written on how not to self-destruct.

  7. edda says:

    A truly watchful title – and essay. Thank you, Mr. Ringer. …. for the not so subtle reminder that men – and women – have succumbed to this blunder since Adam and Eve. Flawed we are since the concept of 'original sin', and flawed we continue to behave. No greater sense of this behavior exists than reflected in the wonderful Greek word – 'hubris.' And no greater historic or chaotic or bloody manifestations exist than WWI – and its infamous Battles – Gallipoli; Somme; Ypres. And we haven't touched on WWII and Auschwitz and Iwo Jima and etc., etc.

    • Raymond says:

      Please forgive me, edda: I don't believe in epics, saga, like the Bible. But I do agree with you that calling ourselves Homo Sapiens Sapiens is a little arrogant. I prefer to refer to our ancestors, the Cro Magnon tribe. And who knows? Maybe evolution didn't perform a perfect job by having this "third species of chimpanzees" evolving into our species. Mankind history teaches us of all the infamous battles to which you refer, and so many more.

      • Scott theczech says:

        You may be confusing hypotheses and theory with settled science or axioms.

        • Raymond says:

          Indeed, theczech, indeed. But it seems to me that science is by definition never settled. The more discoveries and answers our scientists give us, the more new questions those answers raise. Isn't science a sort of "never ending story"? I hope it is. I hope scientists will never be bored.

  8. Duane Quinn says:

    The "Tom" story sounds very fishy…..It sounds like a PC cleanup version….
    I'm sure "Tom's" real name is something like ricardo or takwon…..

  9. larajf says:

    A lot of it is hubris, plain and simple. We should never grow too big for our britches and think our diapers don't need changing. So to speak.
    I hope I continue to make many small mistakes and learn from them so I don't do a big one.

    • Jim Hallett says:

      You make a key point, larajf. Most of us make plenty of mistakes, but eventually have the common sense to reverse our ways, repent from our hubris, and not repeat the mistakes. Famous folks often feel they are immune to such pitfalls, as they revel in the applause of their audience, so are much more likely to make a very BIG mistake, and then not have the tools necessary to reverse course. Money and fame can often be huge blindfolds that prevent people from listening to their gut or better judgment.

  10. Wil says:

    Why can't you folks that resort to psycho babble either accept rjr's comments or not and quit the snipes at each other

  11. Robert Diamond says:

    Great advice. Thank you as usual for thoughtful, smart insights based on an honest assessment of life. Such a refreshing intellectual honesty in all of your work.

  12. Jim Hallett says:

    Good article with priceless wisdom. Today is my Double-dose day of RR, as I just listened to your interview on the Tom Woods Show (enjoyed your revisiting the Joe Karbo advertising success, as I recall seeing those full-page ads of his in the LA Times, and I had forgotten you published Doug Casey's first book in '79, as I continue to pay attention to Doug in matters of international trends & investing – good for you!!). I think with examples like "Tom", the real damage comes when they are NOT caught, so they feel they can up the ante and then the BIG mistake becomes OOLOSSAL and often irreversible. When one is young, bad mistakes can be overcome more easily, as long as one is responsible and willing to do the inner work necessary to reverse course. Thanks for the share in both mediums today!

  13. Rick G says:

    One good example of a "Big Mistake" was Madonna's comment on wanting to blow up the White House. She was visited by the Secret Service and then "walked away" from her comment, saying it was "raken out of context". Lols! Instead of polluting the Top 40 back in the 80's with her crappy music, she would have been better as a stand up comedian.

  14. Rick G says:

    But you see it all the time, everywhere, someone does something, says something, and the PC police nail them. Their lives get "ruined", they are emotionally and financially "devasted, and all you here are regrets, apologies, and boo-hoos.

  15. Rick G says:

    This spell-check on this smartphone is driving me crazy.

  16. mtoolss says:

    Fondest post thanks for sharing.

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