mwotw mistakes of toleration

Mistakes of Toleration

“Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” —Niccolo Machiavelli* 

When I was a teenager, my parents gave me an allowance.

They instructed me that it was to cover all outings with friends (movies, meals, dates) and also any gifts I ever wanted to buy for anyone. 

The thing was, the amount they gave me wasn’t quite enough to do all that. 

If I wanted to get my best friend a birthday gift, that would mean I could only go to the movies with my boyfriend if he was able to pay for me.

Going out to restaurants with friends, I would usually pinch pennies. 

I remember watching them order as I made “lemonade” out of my water, a lemon slice, and free sugar packets. 

(Note: I feel very aware of the economic privilege on display in this story. These are first-world problems, for sure. I hope the point still comes through.)

I definitely experienced a sense of cash scarcity compared to my friends.

But I figured my parents were trying to teach me to be frugal (it worked).

Years later, I was telling a story about the “lemonade” in front of my parents.

My mom jumped in: “We had no idea it wasn’t enough,” she said. “Why didn’t you just ask us for more?”

I was floored.

It had literally never occurred to me to ask for more.

I figured it was my job to make the best of what I was given.

I had made a Mistake of Toleration.


Making the best of what life gives us is an absolutely valuable skill.


But it’s a skill best applied when the circumstances creating our constriction are ACTUALLY out of our control.

If we COULD change our circumstances, but we don’t, then we’re making a Mistake of Toleration.

My allowance experience was an early and memorable lesson for me in Mistakes of Toleration.

Unlike Mistakes of Ambition, which involve risking failure, Mistakes of Toleration avoid the risks of trying to make change. 

They come from fear, inertia, and a lack of vision.

They’re what happens when we don’t take responsibility for something that’s not working for us.

They show up in business, for example, when we don’t fire a person who’s not fit for the job.

When we keep using a vendor that’s no longer meeting our needs.

When we waste time finding work-arounds for broken equipment instead of getting it fixed.

Mistakes of Toleration are energy drains in the long run.

They cling to our ankles, holding us back from our intentions.

So: What are you tolerating right now?

These are things that you could probably change, but haven’t yet been willing to.

Make a list.

I dare you to let yourself know.

Still ambitious,


PS – If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in your business right now, what would it be? 

*Why yes, I do have weird mixed feelings and doubts about quoting Machiavelli! This is not an endorsement of some of his more ruthless ideas.

This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.

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