Turning mistakes into lessons

Create a personal notebook of learned lessons​

Isn`t it that our own mistakes are our best teachers? Yet, I used to dread making mistakes – to the point that I would avoid challenging situations in order to avoid the feeling of having failed. And really, most of the time it`s this feeling that I dread the most, not so much the mistake itself. Me beating myself up thinking: ‘Oh no, stupid me, I should know by now – why have I made this mistake AGAIN?’

Therefore, I have now started collecting mistakes in a notebook. But actually, no – and here`s the trick: It`s more like I`m collecting lessons, learnings, solutions, or advice. I reframe mistakes and turn them into action steps.


After a photo shoot, I review everything. From the planning to the photoshoot itself, to post-processing and communication with people in the process. I then think about how I can improve. Basically, I`m giving myself advice. When it`s a difficult matter, I might ask fellow photographers or talk to other people to hear their advice. And then I note down the lesson. Together with the date and the name of the photo shoot so I can remember the precise situation. 

Collect lessons

It`s important to note that I don`t write down the “negative” like: “Shouldn`t have stayed in that bad light when photographing that person.” But I would note down the solution: “When the light isn`t good, I can ask for two minutes to myself to look for better options and then move the person to a better spot or modify the light in the current spot.”

Also, I want to be very precise in my action steps that will prevent that mistake from happening in the future. For example, say I forgot to bring an extension lead to a job.  Instead of noting down: “Must think of everything I might need when going on a job” (this is not very actionable), I could write: “I need to make a packing list of all things that I need to bring on a job and tick each item off the list before heading off.”

This way, I`m turning mistakes straight into learning AND action. And by noting it down it`s more likely to stay with me. Plus, I can scroll through the pages before a photo shoot to remind myself of relevant things to consider.

Another side effect of these notes: I´m not so terribly scared of making mistakes anymore. Because I can effectively turn them into learned lessons in my notebook – in fact, I`m now collecting them. Not that I would make mistakes on purpose, of course. But when they happen, I now can finally see them more as opportunities for learning. This as well makes it easier to get over these mistakes quickly, and not give me a hard time for having made them. Because I feel I`m actively doing something to improve.

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