Anyone who knows me knows one simple thing: I really, really hate being wrong.

Everyone does.

Nobody likes the feeling you get when you realize you’re going to have to eat some humble pie.

Mmmm… pecan humble pie

But over the years, I’ve learned important lessons about how to handle this situation.

I had one of these moments recently while registering a new car here on the island – a long process that takes several hours and visits to 4 different places. (Traffic police, bank, insurance company, inland revenue)

At the very first stop, the police traffic division, we realized that we were missing one of the two vehicle identification numbers. (Unlike American cars, Japanese vehicles have two VINs)

The number had not been entered on any of the previous documentation. I had this situation with a previous car, and they went ahead and entered it with just the one number.

This time they insisted they needed both numbers. I pushed back and tried to explain that there was no number to be found. Several officers came out and looked over the car. They couldn’t find the number either, but suggested that maybe it was hidden by dirt.

We actually drove to the store, bought some cleaning wipes, and wiped down the area where the officer thought the number would be. Still no number.

After much more back and forth, they finally insisted that I take it to a mechanic because they would know where the number is.

I was absolutely sure there was no number, but agreed to visit a mechanic, figuring I could get some kind of number that I could bring back.

So we drove to the mechanic. It took him less than 30 seconds to wipe off some dirt and reveal the number.

This was the exact instant I realized I had been wrong.

A flood of anger, excuses, and blame filled my head: Stupid car. Stupid place to put a number. Stupid construction with all that dirt that covered up the number. Stupid traffic cops for not just taking the one number and wasting all this time.

A second later, however, I was able to kick back to rationality. I smiled at the young mechanic, thanked him warmly, and give him some money, even though he wasn’t expecting or asking for any.

I got back into the car and immediately explained how I had been wrong and the traffic cops had been right. There was a number, and just like they suggested, it had been covered by dirt.

We went back, got our form stamped, and sailed through the rest of the steps without incident.

Specific lesson learned: Sometimes the thing you need is right in front of you, but obscured by filthy buildup.

General lessons learned: 1) Don’t be bull-headed. 2) Don’t be afraid to ask an expert for help.

And here’s the overall life lesson: The very second you realize you’ve screwed up, you need to:

  1. Admit to yourself that you’re wrong
  2. Admit to others that you’ve made a mistake
  3. Apologize if your mistake has harmed others
  4. Resist the very human urge to blame others – at least some of the blame lies with you
  5. Most importantly, think about what you can change to avoid making the same mistake again
It’s not at all easy, but if you can follow these steps, you’ll grow, evolve, and become better at everything in life.

If instead you don’t admit it, blame others, and refuse to learn from your mistake, you’ll fail, stagnate, and keep making the exact same mistakes… over and over again.