I have been surrounded in the past few weeks by reminders about how important mistakes are to the process of being human. While listening to the audiobook “As You Wish,” I was struck when author Cary Elwes describes a quote from his father: “It is only a mistake if you don’t learn from it.” And over the weekend, I heard famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson say that “any day I make a mistake is a good day, because then I have learned something.”
Both of these statements make me intensely happy. And the reason that they make me happy is that they reflect a truth that I try to convey to my clients on a daily basis:
Mistakes aren’t failure. They are an essential part of being a healthy, growing human being.
In a world where we are graded from an early age, with the possibility that our online mistakes might live with us forever, it can get easy to be swept up into the story of why mistakes are dangerous. We can buy into the idea that a mistake says something about our essential worth. That idea make us so paralyzed by our fear of making mistakes that we stop doing anything.
I want to call BS on that idea. There is no skill that we have, from crawling to talking to writing our names, that we haven’t acquired after intensive practice. And that practice included mistake after mistake. Mistakes that brought us one movement closer to mastery. Human learning and growth is entirely a process of moving from mistake to competence.
During the month of February, I participated in the Real Happiness daily meditation challenge from Sharon Salzburg. I appreciated the reminder that she often shared that distractions are chances to change how we interact with ourselves. Distractions aren’t failure. They provide the opportunity to shift from frustration with our mistakes to kind acceptance and redirection back to the meditation.
This compassionate, gentle outlook is such a lovely way to view mistakes. And if you can bring that compassion to other parts of life, then you have the chance to begin taking action, happening to the world, and moving closer to healthy, connected lives.
So today, I would love to invite you to make some mistakes. I’ll be there right along with you. In fact, today, I am trying to master knitting a hat in the round. I can promise that many mistakes will be made along the way. I’m not sure that I will end up with anything vaguely resembling a hat. I’ll post a picture of the results in the comments later for you. Feel free to share your mistake-making adventures in the comments too.
And if you are feeling paralyzed by the possibility of a mistake, maybe I can help with that. You can reach me by clicking that appointment button to your right.