When you think of “mistake”, what do you think of?
Personally, I think of red. Red ink all over an assignment, marking all the mistakes—all the incorrect answers, misspelled words, and misplaced commas.
Maybe you think of regret. Something you never should have done. “Well, that was a mistake…”
Making a mistake means you have to admit you were wrong. You have to make amends. You have to backtrack and do rework or move forward with a less-than-optimal solution and live with it.
Mistakes have a lot of negative things associated with them. But there’s a dirty little secret about mistakes that I’m going to let you in on. And a liberating truth that will set you free.
However a mistake manifests, and whatever we do about it, all mistakes have one thing in common: they mean we aren’t perfect. We’re flawed, and we don’t like to think of ourselves as flawed. We don’t like being wrong, and we’ll put ourselves through all kinds of mental gymnastics to avoid admitting that we’re wrong.
But you want to know that dirty little secret? Come in closer. Here it is:
You’re not perfect.
It’s okay. Sit down. Let the room stop spinning. Deep breaths. I’ll wait.
Better? Good. Now that it’s out in the open, let’s talk about it.
You’re not perfect, and that’s okay. It’s really not much of a secret. Everybody knows it. Nobody expects you to be perfect, just trying to do your best.
Do you want to know what the great thing is about not being perfect? You get to make mistakes. A lot of them. It’s expected. Perfectly normal. And fun, if you let it.
If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough. You aren’t pushing yourself. Mistakes are how we learn. We try something and see if it works. We then know that it works, or we know one more thing that doesn’t work.
The entire scientific method is built upon the principle of making enough mistakes that we finally figure out the right answer. Every scientific discovery and technological advance has behind it a long, glorious history of mistakes that made it possible. Sometimes, the greatest breakthroughs are the direct result of making a mistake. “Oops! We’re brilliant!!”
Remember that assignment with the red ink all over it? I actually loved those. They were feedback. They were specific things that I could review, develop, or investigate to get better. If I wasn’t willing to make those mistakes—sometimes rather publicly—I would have gotten better a lot more slowly.
Did you do foolish things as a child? Were you an awkward teenager? Should you have taken college a little more seriously? Could you have gotten over that relationship a little sooner? Or avoided it altogether?
You know better know, don’t you? And if you’ll keep making mistakes, you’ll know more in five, in fifteen, and in fifty years than you do now.
Mistakes are nothing to be afraid of. When you learn that, you will be free to act. Don’t worry about making the wrong choice. Just make another one. And another.