The CEO of a company I previously worked for once recounted his past experience to myself and some other employees. Before he had started what is now a relatively large enterprise, he faced a major crossroad in his life. He could have either continued the path he was on or decide to branch out. His current path would support him and his family comfortably while branching out would be completely unpredictable.

Many of us find ourselves facing decisions similar to this. Do I stay where I’m at, where it’s comfortable and predictable? Or should I take the risk of doing something new, knowing that I may fail? There is no right answer for every situation, but perhaps the words of this CEO can offer a new perspective.

Most people, he told us, when faced with a choice like this fear failure. What if I take a risk and fail? However, it isn’t the people who try and fail who are unsuccessful; it’s the ones who never make a decision. We can all learn from failure, but those who never make a decision don’t move forward. 

Of course, this CEO decided to take the risk and his branching out eventually led him to develop an international conglomerate of over 5,000 employees. While I’m no longer associated with the company, this lesson has stuck with me. With the encouragement if these wise words, I’ve traveled, I’ve met amazing people, I’ve left when it would have been easier to stay, I’ve held tight to relationships that would have otherwise seemed too difficult, and I’ve spoken up when I could have said nothing. Through all these joys, mistakes and surprises, I’ve become a wiser person.

Developing the virtue of Prudence often requires going through a similar refinement process. Prudence means making sound decisions. In order to act prudently, we must first develop the ability to recognize what decisions are most prosperous. And the best way to learn this? Life experience – making decisions and learning from the successes, mistakes, and failures. As the CEO above suggested, the key isn’t to avoid failure, but to learn from every situation. Every decision we make has the capability to refine us into a wiser person if we are willing to learn from it.


Give Yourself Some Grace

As parents, we have all had moments when we had to learn the hard way, perhaps in our careers, our parenting styles or something else. However, these decisions don’t have to define who we are. You are so much more than the mistakes you’ve made. By freeing yourself from the temptation to make your mistakes your identity, you may muster the strength to reflect on the situation. If you find that you are making similar mistakes repeatedly, you may want to consider taking time to truly define the error. It could be that you are looking at it from the wrong vantage point.


Give Your Kids The Space To Grow

As much as we want to spare our children from the heart-wrenching moments, making their own mistakes can turn into very valuable lessons for the future. Also remember that without the risk of failing, none of us have the chance to truly succeed. Giving children reasonable and safe space to make their own decisions can enable them to accomplish feats they are proud of, knowing that they did it on their own.


Growing in the virtue of Prudence is not eliminating risk, but rather learning when to take the right risks. As J. K. Rowling cleverly stated, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all. In which case, you’ve failed by default.” Keep living, giving yourself and those around you the freedom to make decisions, take appropriate risks, and experience the outcomes that can lead to greater wisdom.

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