My Big Mistakes — And What I Learned From Them
The strange thing about mistakes is that you can always find new ones to make. I keep thinking that, at my advanced age, I have made all the mistakes I can and have used up my full lifetime allocation of actual and potential mistakes.
Alas, there is always a new, sneaky one just waiting around the corner. But if you spend your life frightened by the next mistake you might make, you would just stay at home and, maybe, just stay in bed and sleep your life away.
I have a good friend who is a brain surgeon from Germany. One day I asked him, "The rest of us are always saying that it's good to learn from our mistakes and no one is going to die — we're not brain surgeons. So, Jorn, what do you brain surgeons say?"
"Well," he replied, "sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we learn from our mistakes … and sometimes people die."
That certainly puts my fundraising mistakes into perspective! And it gives me the courage to take a deep breath and share them with you. So to celebrate my six decades, here are six big mistakes and what I learned from them — and believe me, I have plenty more up my sleeve, but there is only so much public shame a girl can take.
I'll start with the years working for the African National Congress (ANC) — a difficult task in the 1980s when none of us thought Nelson Mandela would ever leave prison. Although we had amazing supporters, we had no equipment; no money for anything; and no way to pay designers, consultants or copywriters. Luckily, what we did have were amazing volunteers who wrote and designed newspaper ads and gave us top-class strategic advice.
I own these mistakes, but it's worth remembering that good results take teamwork and bad results are usually teamwork as well — nearly always it's everyone just doing something a little bit wrong, which ends up in a great big mess. But whatever mistakes we made at the ANC, we had one of the best and most compelling cases for support of our lifetime and someone heading the cause who had no opportunity to "contaminate his brand" or spoil his good reputation. There's not a lot of opportunity for scandalous behavior when you are locked up in a prison on a windswept island.