I heard a saying once that went something like this:
"Learning through studying and pondering is the most honorable; learning through watching others' experiences is the easiest; learning through our own mistakes is the most painful."
In my opinion, at least parts of that statement are true. My mom taught me the concept of "watching out for red flags." This idea is basically just a picture to represent the ability to perceive twinges in our consciences or recognize problems in the horizon.
One day I was walking back to the dorm with my friend Lisa. We went our separate ways soon after we went inside, since she takes the stairs, and I take the elevator. She lives on the second floor, and I live on the third floor. I like to use the excuse that I don't like carrying the scooter up the stairs, but honestly I'm just a lazy bum.
Anyway, sometimes I'm just really oblivious and unaware of my surroundings, especially when I'm performing a task that I do on a regular basis, such as punching the number "three" in the elevator, exiting the elevator, and walking down the hall to my room. This time my inattentiveness was mostly due to the excessive numbers of text messages I was receiving at that moment.
Therefore, when the elevator doors opened, I didn't notice that it was still on the second floor. I simply walked through, still texting. Suddenly, a speedy blur sprung from around the corner, grabbing me faster than I could even react. Needless to say, I tore away in a panic and let out an ear-piercing shriek.
It was Lisa. She had run up the stairs and pushed the button on the elevator, causing it to halt on the second floor, instead of the third floor, where I had been intending to go. She laughed hysterically, and I tried to smile in spite of the fact that my heart was beating fast enough to keep time for "The Flight of the Bumblebee."
I told her it was a good trick and went on my merry way, shaking my head at my own blatant inattentiveness. At least I've learned to look both ways before crossing the street.
Anyway, about a week later, I was walking back to the dorm with Lisa again. It was close to curfew, and I was pretty tired. Once again, she took the stairs, and I took the elevator. As before, I got a few text messages. Yawning, I tried to respond to some of them while I was on the elevator. When I heard the "ding," I obediently headed out the opening doors toward what I once again mistakenly thought was my floor.
A speeding blur leaped from around the corner, grabbing me and letting out a roar. I calmly looked up from my texting. "Hi, Lisa. You can't get me twice with the same trick," I said. "Good try, though." She just laughed. We both recognized that I had still gotten off at the wrong floor, but I had certainly not been startled to the point of screaming bloody murder the second time around.
I'd venture to say that next time I'm walking back to the dorm with Lisa, I'll think to check the number on the elevator before I exit. I don't claim to be the fastest learner in the world, but in general, I like to avoid making the same mistake twice. When it comes to real life situations, I'm really hard on myself. Usually I can forgive myself and get over it if I do something stupid once, but I get really annoyed if I do it again.
I learned in my biology class my sophomore year of high school about "pathways" that we establish in our brains. We have pathways for tying our shoes, reading, talking to people, playing sports, and anything else we know how to do. The more we do something, the more defined the particular pathway in our brain for that task becomes. It works the same way with warnings in our lives.
When something goes wrong, we learn to recognize the signs and signals, so when they show up again, we'll know how to respond to prevent the worst from happening. What I'm saying is, sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes we make mistakes. And that's okay—just as long as we learn from them.
There's always a red flag; you've just got to learn how to see it.