Hundreds of years ago, in the land of the rising Sun—Japan—there lived two mice named Hem and Haw. One day, they received a Royal proclamation inviting them to take part in a cheese sculpting competition to be held at the Royal Mice Gardens.
Hem and Haw were extremely excited. They saw this as an opportunity to impress the beautiful mice princess, Maya, and immediately started preparing for their long journey. Hem set out with his chisel, hammer and other tools necessary for sculpting cheese, in his backpack.
He travelled relentlessly for the entire day. At the fall of night, he checked into a mice tavern in a clearing by the road. After a sumptuous meal, Hem was just sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere when he noticed a large piece of cheese, as big as a boulder, in the bar.
He decided to practise for the upcoming sculpting competition. So taking his tools out of the backpack, he began to chisel away at the cheese.
Several hours later, Hem stood back to look at his handiwork. It was a statue of Princess Maya. The onlookers applauded his art and Hem was reasonably happy with his attempt. However, he realised that the ears of the statue were too big for the body. He made a mental note to be careful of this in the future and went to sleep after a tiring day.
The next morning, he continued on his way leaving the statue of Princess Maya behind. Fortunately, on the second evening, Hem found another cheese to practise on and carved another sculpture of the Princess.
This time, he got her ears right but made her legs shorter. He made a mental note on how to improve on it the next time and moved on. This continued throughout his journey. He would check into a tavern at night only when he could get a big piece of cheese to practise on.
Every evening he would create a sculpture of Princess Maya, make mental notes on how he could improve, and move on the following morning, leaving the sculpture where he created. It took Hem seven nights to reach the Royal Mice Gardens. By then, he had made seven practice sculptures that were each a little better than the one before.
On the day of the competition, Hem created his best sculpture ever and, to his delight, was awarded the coveted ‘Golden Sculptor’ award. Princess Maya was so overwhelmed by his work that she consented to go out for a dinner with him.
Now you may be wondering what happened to the other sculptor, Haw. So let me tell you his side of the story&
Like Hem, Haw too set out on the seven-day journey to the Royal Gardens for the sculpting competition. He too made camp on the first night at an inn, found a large cheese to practise on, and created a statue of Princess Maya.
He realised that he had made her eyes and nose bigger than her body. Haw got upset for making this mistake. The next morning, he heaved the statue onto his back to study his mistake later, and continued on his journey.
At the end of his second day of travel, Haw found another cheese to practise on. After a couple of hours of hard work, he created another statue. This time, he forgot to include the whiskers and became furious at his mistake.
He could not sleep the entire night. The next morning, he woke up feeling tired and lethargic. But he had a long journey ahead, so he heaved the second statue onto his back as well and trudged slowly towards his destination.
Night after night, Haw repeated this pattern: he would create a statue of Princess Maya, get angry with himself for the mistakes, then carry the statue on his back and move on.
By the seventh night, he was exhausted and had lost all motivation. The next morning, he woke up early to set out for the final leg of the journey with the seven statues on his back. Alas, he could not move an inch. With clenched teeth, he strained to move, but nothing happened.
He realised that the statues were extremely heavy, making it impossible to move. Haw complained bitterly as he looked over the statues in detail—too big, too short, too tall, something amiss &the list of mistakes went on and on.
The heart broken mouse slumped down next to a tree stump and continued to stare at his statues for hours. As a result, he never made it to the Royal Gardens to participate in the competition.
The story illustrates the fine difference between success and failure. The statues of the princess in the story are a metaphor for the mistakes we make in life. What differentiated Hem from Haw was the way in which they responded to their mistakes.
When Hem created practice statues, he observed and made mental notes of mistakes he made remembering to be careful to avoid them in the future. However, he left the mistakes where he made them and continued towards his goal. As a result, he gradually developed his skills and eventually achieved his ultimate objective.
Haw, on the other hand, had a different approach towards his mistakes. He weighed himself down with his mistakes every time he made them. The load on his back kept increasing day-by-day until one day it immobilised him.
Instead of leaving his mistakes behind, Haw carried the weight of his mistakes with him, which eventually prevented him from reaching his objective.
Each one of us makes mistakes on our journey to success—some small, some big. And every time you make a mistake, you have a choice: either learn from your mistake and move on like Hem, or add it to your baggage like Haw.
The danger in harbouring regret and continually analysing your past mistakes is that, like Haw, you can eventually get stuck and can jeopardise the achievements that are waiting for you in your future.
Reflect on the story of Hem and Haw and make the decision to leave your mistakes where you make them. It’ll help you move ahead in spite of mistakes.
This was first published in the May 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.