Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Better Mistakes / Thank You For Your Wisdom and Generosity

Robyn was telling me about a story a good family friend - the mother of one of our close friends - told her today. The details of the story aren’t important (and they’re personal, so I don’t want to share them here) but the lesson was wise: it’s important to protect Christmas traditions because the amount of Christmas mornings we have with our kids is fixed and extremely limited.

One, she was right about the scarcity of Christmas mornings. Two, I felt so grateful to have heard that story through Robyn. It is an act of tremendous generosity when our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, elderly neighbors, and family friends to talk about the lessons they’ve learned from experience - especially the lessons that involve making mistakes. Talking about your mistakes and offering up what they’ve taught you, for free, out of the goodness of your heart, is not a normal behavior in most contexts.

At work? Definitely not normal. When’s the last time anyone openly discussed their mistakes with you? When’s the last time you heard a senior executive, a peer, or a recruit talk about a failure without couching the story in some frame that alludes to resilience or beating the odds after a struggle?

How often do you think the CEOs of established firms mentor the CEOs of startups in their industry? Could you ever imagine the CEO of a Big 3 automaker ever sharing advice with Elon Musk so that he may avoid the pitfalls they had? I sure can’t.

In public life and public relations? It’s definitely not normal to talk about mistakes openly and candidly.

Which is all to say that mentors who throw down about struggles and failures are very special indeed. Sharing wisdom so someone else doesn’t have to repeat your mistakes is an incredibly gracious act. It’s perhaps the most important and profound example of paying it forward. To those people in my life, thank you.

I often think about how my own father spent tremendous amounts of time preparing me to avoid making the same mistakes that he did. I wish I could thank him and give him a long hug about it now.

I hope that as a father, I can do the same for our kids and help them avoid the mistakes that I’ve already made, suffered through, and learned from. Very little would please me more than to see my kids make better and more important mistakes than I have.


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