07/23/2010 12:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Okay, We Admit It: Guys Screw Up

A good man acknowledges his mistakes. An exceptional man learns from them.

We asked famous men (and average Joes) to answer the question, "From which of your mistakes did you learn the most?"

Some guys wanted no part of the question. "It hits too close to home right now!" one media mogul told us. A successful writer deemed it "way too fucking personal." Others insisted that they weren't nearly "introspective enough" to take it on. One man even claimed he'd never made a mistake. "I'm pretty much God-like in that way," he quipped.

But plenty of men did answer the question, and they did so with breathtaking honesty (and, on occasion, some much-needed humor).

Behold, men admitting they screwed up...

"Drinking a third martini. Then talking."
Randy Grim, dog rescuer

"I was born into shame. And that I perpetuated that shame was my biggest mistake."
Duncan Roy, filmmaker

Joe Mcginniss, author

"When I was young, I was in a boys' choir led by a serial pedophile, who was eventually arrested. After my own molestation, I stayed quiet, believing I was protecting myself. This was a terrible mistake and might have been the biggest lesson of my life, and my biggest regret. And so it was the subject of my first novel, what I learned from that mistake."
Alexander Chee, novelist

"Assuming that when people ask me to listen, they're wanting advice or a conversation."
Austin Bucholtz, high-school student

"I watched my parents waste their potential in this world. They were both smart, talented, attractive, and educated. They both had demons that they could not control: drugs, alcohol, violence, anger. My mother ended up living in cheap motels and selling books door to door. My father was pressing pants in a clothing store at the age of 60. I learned from their mistakes; I swore I was not going to let my weaknesses dictate my future."
Michael Kamber, photojournalist

"I used to approach acting with a very antagonistic attitude. I was very hard to get along with as an actor. It made working in film unpleasant, and it also hurt my performances... So, I stopped."
James Franco, actor

"I have learned almost nothing from my many mistakes."
Jack Shafer, writer

"The absolute knowing that loss cannot be run away from, avoided, or covered up with distractions. I have learned that a man stands strong and tall in the midst of loss and allows himself to feel it completely and in the deepest parts of his soul."
Robb Braun, motivational speaker

"A black diamond run on a ski hill is no place to show off to girls you don't know."
Vik Sahay, actor

"From being unfaithful to a woman I loved. It really woke me up to my confusion and my cruelties and my cowardice and how poorly I had lived up to my ideals. I really fucked up but I would not be the person I am if I hadn't had that fuck-up to teach me. Hard fucking lesson, wish I'd been smarter but you can't wish for a life you've never had."
Junot Diaz, author

"I learned that I am NOT a mistake."
David Boyd, college student

"Committing armed robbery. Going to jail. Selling drugs. Going back to jail."

"I heeded the urging of my family and never told my grandmother I'm gay, persuading myself that a woman who had lived through the Great Inflation of the 1920's, Hitler's Berlin, the death of her father in a concentration camp, and separation from her firstborn son--a woman who then, having moved to a country where she spoke not a word of the language, went on to raise a thriving new family (and to speak flawless English)--would somehow not be strong or understanding enough to love her true grandson."
Michael Lowenthal, author

"Having a child before I was married or ready to have kids."
Dave Winfield, Hall of Fame baseball player

"When I was really young, and we were moving into a new house, my parents asked me to bring some towels to the bathroom. I associated bathroom with toilet, so I flushed some down the toilet. I've learned from this experience, and have not flushed any towels since then. Also, in grade school, I saw how badly it hurt somebody that I was mean to. I never wanted to feel that again, so I try to be nice to everybody."
Tom Riles, comedian.

"I did cheat on a girlfriend once, and afterward I felt like the lowest, most mangy piece of bottom-feeding dog shit that ever lived. I told myself I'd never do that again, to anyone. And to date, I haven't--not that I'm asking for any special commendation from N.O.W. for managing not to insert certain parts of my body into people/places where those parts shouldn't be inserted. But still, that one indiscretion taught me that I never want to feel that low again. (My wife and I often joke that I'm far too lazy and disorganized to have an affair anyway -- all that call-screening, text message-hiding, and remembering what lies you told to whom about what you were doing with whom and when and at what time. Just tiresome.)"

Mark St. Amant, author

"I once thought that a junior-high bully who picked on me relentlessly could be shamed by my crying. It didn't work." Will Doig, journalist

"The mistake of thinking that the pursuit of money is a loutish, foppish, and miserable existence. I discovered that, for most, it is those things, but that you can pursue financial gain in a manner that is sophisticated, caring, and with integrity."
Kenneth Hughes, actor and producer

"From the mistake of anger."
Brady Udall, author

"The biggest mistakes I have made have come from not trying."
Jamie Houghton, retired CEO

"Drinking too much and thinking that making a ton of money might make me less of an a-hole."
Tom Matlack, co-founder of The Good Men Project

"Being mean to my friends."
Cole Matlack, 5-year-old son of Tom Matlack

"I make the same mistake over and over again, so I'm not sure how much I learn. So I won't recount the number of times I should have kept my mouth shut, should not have hit the button, should have made sure I wasn't making a complete ass of myself before opening my mouth. I can still think of about a dozen examples and cringe. The lesson is easy--better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing, the stupid thing, the inappropriate thing, the thing that makes you look like an idiot. But I'm not sure I ever quite learn it."
Peter Applebome, journalist

"Expecting life to unfold in a rational way."
Maer Roshan, magazine editor

"I learned that in spite of watching generations of men in my family, some of them brilliant leaders, self destruct with alcohol, that I was not different or that having experienced that family as an alcoholic system that wasn't training to contain my own alcoholism. I guess I learned that things could happen to me."
Joe Schrank, interventionist

"My disrespectful behavior to a barber when I was nine or ten. I did not want a haircut, as children sometimes belligerently do not. Eventually, my parents removed me from the chair and spoke to me in our car. At some point in the back and forth, they exclaimed that I hadn't even been nice to the adult man who was going to cut my hair, to which I replied, "Why do I have to be nice to my barber?" That was it. They made clear how wrong this was, and I got it. I use this lesson almost every day: I am better than nobody."
John C. Abell, journalist

"Hitting my dog."
Anthony Morales, unemployed

"Hitting my kid."

"I've made a ton of mistakes. But the biggest mistake has been worrying about the mistakes I'd already made. Such a waste of mental energy. I once wrote an article for a magazine about a Harry Potter movie. And after it had gone to press, I realized I had gotten a fact wrong--I think the size of the budget. I threw away days of my life obsessing over my mistake. Which, as it turned out, no one noticed or complained about. Worrying is a bad addiction." A.J. Jacobs, author

"My DUI in 2004. No injuries or damage to personal property, but embarrassing and definitely a wake-up call to slow down."
Michael Schiavo, poet

"In 1988, I was accepted to the American Film Institute directing program, a highly competitive graduate school. I was also offered, at the same time, a paying job as associate producer on a major studio film. I sought advice from various parts, and opted for the producer job, because it provided me with a living wage, whereas the directing program would have put me considerably in debt. As a result, I was put on the path to a career as a producer, which was successful, but I was not able to segue into directing until 2002, 14 years later. It's one of the few crossroads in my life where, in retrospect, I would have chosen differently, and consequently I revisit the situation frequently. I learned that in life and in work, passion must trump financial considerations, because regret makes for heavier baggage than debt."
Alan Poul, film/tv director and producer.

"There are so many mistakes in my past it's difficult to single one out. But rest assured I have learned from them all."
Keith Dixon, author and journalist

"Um, I don't make mistakes. No, wait, I do. Having sex with the wrong girls."
John O'sullivan, sound engineer

"My mistake was not being serious enough about things. I'm kind of still that way. If something doesn't work out, screw it; I'll do something else."
Dave Cowens, NBA Hall of Famer

"Making my wife feel insecure by flirting. It seemed so small a betrayal. But marriage is made up of millions of tiny acts of bravery, and any one failure can cause a crack that could get bad. Which is too bad, because flirting is fun. Then again, sex with new people is fun, so I get that fun shouldn't be the main determining factor for your actions."
Joel Stein, journalist

"Being a Cubs fan. Except that I haven't really learned anything from that, because I'm still a Cubs fan." Chris Johnson, teacher

"My greatest lessons involved ones of humility and speaking up for myself. Dealing with taking my daughter's mother to court to get joint custody made me realize I'd do whatever it takes to be a part of my child's life. But being humble enough to have compassion for ones who I felt wronged me helped me move past the situation on an emotional level." Christian Thaahum Abrokwah, hip-hop artist

"Thinking that professional athletes might be men I would want to emulate."
Jason Archer, college student

"Underestimating my importance to someone close to me."
David Atchison, producer and journalist

"I used to think I never made mistakes; or, in that rare instance when I did, that you were still somehow at fault."
Tommy Long, store manager

"Having an affair; breaking my wife's heart. Also, any time I have postured as anything less than my true self I have suffered (and hence) learned most."
Matthew R. Piepenburg, financial executive and poet

"Dropping out of college. It made me understand that I had to take responsibility for myself and my actions. There was a time when I believed that the world owed me something, and dropping out of college opened my eyes."
Ben Corman, comedian

"Not listening to my sons as intently as I should. There were times when they were younger that I became distracted by something, usually a work issue. I didn't give them the attention they deserved, and I could see the disappointment on their faces when they would walk away, dejected. That hurt me so much. I have strived to be a better listener since, and to drop what I was doing whenever they needed me."
Michael Angley, author

"Lying. I did it like it was my fucking job."
Rick Flaherty, businessman

"Attempting to maintain more than one relationship at a time. The energy it takes is really not worth it. And the energy and the attention it takes away from any one relationship." Nick Flynn, author

"Have you ever tried crossing the Triborough Bridge from Queens without cash? A funny thing happens: They wait out your lame excuse, take your license and registration, tell you to drive through an hour's worth of traffic down the bridge and into the Bronx, turn around, drive another hour's worth of traffic back up the bridge, retrieve your license and registration, and then go the hell back where you came from to find an ATM, extract some cash, and do the whole thing over again. I will never make that mistake again.

"I mean, listen: Mistakes, I've made a few. Many more serious than the toll bridge. This may sound overly simplistic, but learning from mistakes taught me that I can learn from my mistakes --an enormous lesson in itself. When you finally figure that out, you stop feeling bad about an error and start looking for the lesson. It's the best part of screwing up.

But also: Can't NYC just put some damn credit card swipers in those toll booths? Is that really so hard?"
Jason Feifer, editor

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