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6,362 posts
msg #40838
Ignore TheRumpledOne
2/1/2006 12:11:21 AM

January 31, 2006
Beware The Big Mistake

By Robert Ringer

It was a sad day in the hallways of my son's high school last week. Students were in a state of mourning for "Tom," a popular senior who sported a near-perfect academic record.

Tom was also a starter on the varsity basketball team and involved in many school activities. Ironically, just days before his demise, he received word that he had been accepted to attend Princeton next year.

Then, overnight, Tom became a poster child for the case of EQ over IQ. Notwithstanding his stellar record of making consistently intelligent decisions throughout his young life, his "emotional intelligence" failed him when he needed it most.

(One dictionary definition of emotional intelligence is "an awareness of and ability to manage emotions and create motivation." EQ is sometimes used as an abbreviation for educational quotient, but, as used here, it is meant to refer to emotional quotient.)

The good news is that Tom did not die. By demise, I was referring to his being expelled from school for having drugs in his backpack. Worse, there apparently was evidence that he had taken it one step further and was actually selling drugs.

The news stunned the entire school community. I didn't know the young man personally, but I had heard enough about him to be aware that he was respected and popular with students, faculty, and parents alike.

So, the question everyone is now pondering: What on earth was an intelligent, all-American young man like Tom thinking when he brought drugs to school? I can only conjecture that it was a combination of not thinking much at all (at least not about the possible consequences of his actions) mixed with a bit of senior omnipotence.

This sad and shocking incident struck a bell with me, because I have long been fascinated by the ramifications of "The Big Mistake." What I'm referring to here is a mistake so big that it can destroy such precious assets as reputation, marriage, and earning capacity. In extreme cases, it can even cost a person his life - and often has.

I want to be very careful here to avoid leading anyone to draw false inferences from what I'm about to say. For all the reasons I've written about in the past, I believe it's important, and healthy, for a person to be action-oriented. Bold, consistent action is the preeminent factor that determines how an individual's life plays out.

Further, risk-taking is implicit in the term action-oriented. Success is not possible without risk-taking action. A near corollary to this is that success is not possible without failure. Thus, the wise person takes consistent, bold action and embraces failure, because he understands that each failure brings him one step closer to success.

So, how does a person differentiate between bold action that leads to The Big Mistake and bold action that leads either to success or to "healthy" failure? This is a sticky wicket, to be sure, but I don't believe it's as complicated as it appears to be on the surface.

In Article 23 (see the Archives section on, I discussed the topic of common sense at length. I stand on everything I said in that article, and I firmly believe that common sense is your best defense against making The Big Mistake.

But what makes it tricky is that the form of The Big Mistake can vary widely. Some Big Mistakes are made impulsively, on the spur of the moment, while others are made after considerable reflection. In the latter case, the problem usually is that the person allows his intellect to get trampled by his emotions.

A classic example of The Big Mistake being made on the spur of the moment would be when the legendary Woody Hayes, Ohio State's head football coach for 28 years, punched a Clemson player during the 1978 Gator Bowl. The morning after the incident, Hayes was fired.

Woody died on March 12, 1987, at the relatively young age of 74. Though I wasn't a Woody Hayes fan, I felt genuinely sorry for him during his last years. He lived out the remainder of his life as a sort of pathetic figure who had lost everything because of one impulsive moment that led quickly to The Big Mistake.

Nicole Simpson, on the other hand, is an example of someone who made The Big Mistake by allowing her emotions to override her intellect over a long period of time. After the infamous O. J. purportedly raped her on their first date, she certainly had the intelligence to know that she was getting involved with an incredibly bad human being. Yet, she chose to continue the relationship ... and ultimately married him.

Again, do not draw a false inference here. I am not implying that Nicole Simpson deserved to be hacked to death. On the contrary, all who knew her described her as a loving and caring person, as well as a great mother.

Nonetheless, I believe she made The Big Mistake by becoming involved with someone who was notorious for living life in the fastest of the fast lanes in fast-lane L.A. And continued making The Big Mistake by staying with him after repeated spousal-abuse episodes.

So, my purpose here is not to chastise an innocent victim of a cold-blooded murder, but to point out just how costly The Big Mistake can be. We are warned early on what happens to children who play with matches. The problem is that, as adults, we are often overconfident about handling matches.

Now, you might be thinking, "That may be true, but O. J. made The Big Mistake, and he didn't suffer any consequences." There is no question in any sane, honest person's mind that he didn't get what he deserved - being hung upside-down, Mussolini style, at the entrance to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

But he did lose his most-cherished asset - his phony nice-guy image. In addition, he lost his capacity to earn a living ... he lost his beloved fast-lane life in Los Angeles and was virtually forced into exile in Florida ... and he lost most of his friends. (Can you imagine the humiliation of having to look to F. Lee Bailey for friendship?)

And some day, I suspect, he will probably lose the love of his children when (after thoroughly researching the evidence) they finally come to grips with what he did to their mother. O. J. may put on a happy face in interviews, but I'd be willing to bet that he feels like he's trapped in a living hell (not to mention the possibility of a greater hell that may be waiting for him when he crosses to the other side).

There have undoubtedly been millions of women who have made the same Big Mistake over the years, often with the same extreme outcome. Shondra Levy, who became involved with a married creep twice her age, is another obvious example that comes to mind. Sadly, we see the consequences of these kinds of mistakes played out every day on television.

I'm sure you get my point. And many other names are probably now popping into your mind - John DeLorean, Dennis Kozlowski (former chairman of Tyco International), Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant (who avoided prison, but lost his clean-cut image and endorsement potential for life - though scoring 81 points in a single game can do wonders for making people forget) ... the list grows longer every time you turn on the television set.

And how about the Jews who didn't take Hitler and the Nazi Party seriously enough in the 1930s? Perhaps theirs was the ultimate Big Mistake, and most paid a gruesome, albeit undeserved, price for their error in judgment. Interestingly, those who took action and fled Germany when they had the opportunity to do so were spared, but most of those who did not take action lost their lives.

I say interesting, because this is an excellent example of why taking action is not in conflict with avoiding The Big Mistake. In the case of holocaust victims, it was inaction that was the culprit. So, whether it's action or inaction is not the issue. The key determinant in avoiding The Big Mistake is whether or not one uses good judgment.

Politicians have perhaps the lowest EQs of all. That's why the U. S. keeps getting itself into wars -- then, having made the first mistake, never fails to adopt a no-win policy. If you are not willing to kill innocent civilians, if you are not willing to torture enemy combatants, and if you are intent on granting the enemy the same legal rights as your citizens, war is the wrong business to be in.

From a moral standpoint, I am against war, against killing innocent civilians, against all forms of torture, and against depriving anyone of their legal rights. But the problem is that the bad guys on the other side of all of our wars use a completely different set of rules. Again, I repeat the haunting observation of 9/11 "pilot" Mohammed Atta: "The enemy is stupid."

As a result, "the world's only superpower" hasn't won a war since 1945. Has anyone taken the trouble to notice that North Korea not only is still in business but is a major nuclear threat? That Vietnam is a united communist country? And that Iraq is looking just a bit shaky at the moment?

The Big Mistake is another one of those subjects that deserves a thousand-page book to discuss in any kind of worthwhile detail. However, since I won't be writing a thousand-page book on the subject anytime soon, I'll end my abridged observations on this subject by making two last points.

First, you should constantly remind yourself that, as a human being, you are not omnipotent. If your gut tells you that something is wrong, don't ignore it because you believe you will "somehow work it out." There is a fine line between rational risk-taking that feels right and irrational risk-taking that feels wrong. Trust your intellect and your "gut" rather than your emotions.

Second, the good news: In most cases, people get another chance. In the case of Tom, he has the opportunity to convert The Big Mistake into the most positive learning experience of his life. At his age, and with all that he has going for him, he has a lifetime to overcome the mess he's created for himself.

If Tom has learned the lesson of just how costly one major error in judgment can be, he can become something greater than he might have been had he not made The Big Mistake in the first place. And, someday, he will have the opportunity to reap extra dividends from his experience by telling his children and grandchildren about how a foolish mistake almost destroyed his life.

And so it is with all of us. If you've made The Big Mistake and are now suffering as a result, you have the tools to overcome it. I'm not talking about resources, but resourcefulness. If you need help in picking yourself up and moving forward, I suggest you read - every day - Rudyard Kipling's famous poem If. Especially the part that says:

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold On!'"

But if you've been fortunate enough to avoid The Big Mistake till now, your best bet is to be ever vigilant about not falling prey to it in the future. By all means, take action ... lots of action ... bold action - and don't be afraid to make digestible-size mistakes. Failure is a stepping-stone to success; The Big Mistake can be a stepping-stone to irreversible disaster.

1,373 posts
msg #40844
Ignore EWZuber
2/1/2006 3:20:24 AM

Ironically, getting out of the public school institution could have been the best move he ever made even though it wasn't his intention.
Likewise if you make a big mistake in the market,find out why then turn it around. Example;
Late in the big tech market in 1999 I bought CMRC at about $250. Almost overnight it dropped ~$100. What happened?? Upon researching the problem I discovered they had unlocked millions of shares for insiders to sell from their IPO.
Looking further I found a site that listed the unlockup dates for hundreds of new IPO's that had inundated the market over the last year.
After doing some testing,I decided to turn my huge liability into an asset by shorting these stocks and it worked out very nicely.
It is not enough to have a trade work out if you do not understand exactly how you did it. It is actually better to have a trade fail if it makes you look deeper into the trade and find out why.

283 posts
msg #40861
Ignore heypa
2/1/2006 12:56:09 PM

Thank you TRO.
I have always admired Ringers work.He does cut to the chase.

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