Making Friends with Mistakes

In one of my more popular posts, I wrote about the fact that we deserve self-care, no matter what.  That falling out of a self-care routine doesn’t mean that you are barred from returning to it.  I have had several conversations recently with clients that explored a different slice of self-talk and self-permission: making mistakes.

Here’s the thing. I passionately believe that mistakes are a critical part of deep learning.  Some of the lessons I acquired most thoroughly in life are the ones I really had to struggle to master (except for stats & calculus–those are just long gone).  I think that permission to make mistakes leaves room for discovery and creativity and growth.  I believe that mistakes are the foundation of real mastery.

All of that is true.  Here’s the other thing.  I am not always great at making mistakes gracefully.  In fact it might be fair to say that sometimes I downright hate making mistakes. It is important to me to be seen as capable and competent.  It is even more important to me to believe that I am not letting people down.  I can’t always remember that mistakes are a learning process. Mistakes remind me that I’m fallible, and that I still have a lot of learning to do.  Mistakes keep me humble and, when I’m willing to make friends with them, also allow me to be more compassionate with myself and with others.

The problem is that many of us have a really deep shame story about mistakes.  We truly expect ourselves to somehow get it right, the first time, all the time.  And when we don’t meet that impossible goal, we tell ourselves that we’re not capable, we’re not good enough, we’re not trying hard enough.

How different would our days feel if we knew that mistakes were probably going to happen, but that it would be okay?  That we can choose to be accountable for the results of our mistakes, make what reparations we need to make, and then go on to learn from the entire experience.

Can you imagine what it would feel like to have the weight of expected perfection lifted off your shoulders for a while?  How much more comfortable might you be in your own skin?  How much more compassion might you have for yourself and others?  What great things might you learn along the way?

I know this runs counter to how many of you think (trust me, I’m in that group too, but I’m trying to grow out of it), but I’m inviting you to experiment with making mistakes a different experience.  One that is about growth and learning rather than shame and unrealistic expectations.  Do you have a “making friends with mistakes” story to share?  I’d love to hear it in the comments.

3 thoughts on “Making Friends with Mistakes

  1. Dear Ann – Nice post about shame. Someone with internalized pervasive shame can get that activated so easily by making a mistake, some people retreat into themselves, other people blame others for the event (narcissists). And yet growth never comes without moving forward. ty, Kathy

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