It’s pretty uncommon these days for anyone to encourage you to make a mistake, let alone celebrate one. A mistake is considered to be the opposite of a success and therefore something to be avoided in our success-focused culture. But what if I told you that it’s not so simple – that mistakes are crucial for your personal growth and that avoiding mistakes is the best way to keep you from being your most successful self? What would you do? How would you live a life where mistakes were marvelous?
First off, you have to believe that mistakes are great!
We have spent most of our lives being told to avoid mistakes. Almost every test we take in school sends that message. If you want a good grade, don’t make any mistakes. A good grade is considered the key to a good school, which is the key to a good job, which is our key to a good life. Anything that derails that imaginary path is a bad thing. But take some time to think about your life when you learned the most about yourself and others. Did they come from easy successes? Or did they come from epic fails? Perhaps it was the success you found after the trials, obstacles, and mistakes you had to experience to get there? My guess is it was the latter.
Mistakes have changed the world for the better!
All you have to do is look back in history to see all the mistakes that we benefit from today. The microwave was invented because Percy Spencer was trying to create a new vacuum tube. He noticed that by mistake, he was also melting a candy bar in his pocket. One dirty shirt ended up meaning microwaves for all! Not a fan of Hot Pockets? How about penicillin? While working with bacteria, Alexander Fleming found that one of his Petri dishes was contaminated with mold. But one failed experiment led to the start of something amazing when the mold seemed to counteract the present bacteria. If Fleming were being tested, he would have failed. But instead, he invented modern antibiotics! Now your mistakes might not lead to inventions that will change the world, but they will teach you things that can change your life.
Stop being afraid to make mistakes!
We hear it all the time, “take the road less traveled,” and “think outside the box,” when we apply to schools and for jobs where we want to “stand out” and be “different from the rest.” That’s hard to do when you’re scared of making mistakes. It’s the fear of mistakes that keeps us from trying new things or taking risks. Our bodies have evolved to keep us safe. Anytime we think we’re in danger; our bodies flush with adrenaline and hormones that are designed to make us FIGHT or FLIGHT. Neither of these reactions are necessary when you’re trying to sing karaoke, or just admitting to someone that you have no idea what they are talking about, but you’d like to learn. The more we can train ourselves to be less scared of our mistakes, the more courageous and confident we’ll be in the world.
Celebrate mistakes and make them often.
I’m not saying that you should go out of your way to mess up. Don’t intentionally crash your car or cheat on your partner because you’re gonna learn something from it. But just knowing that mistakes can be positive will free us from many of our inhibitions. Here are some ways that you can start “mistaking” your way to your best self.
- Be reflective. When you make a mistake, take the time to think about what you can learn from it. Sometimes this won’t be clear right away, and that’s okay. It took me years to learn from the mistakes that I made in my last relationship, but now I’m grateful for what I know now. Some great ways to make sure you’re reflecting is to start a regular journal writing practice or put up a prompt somewhere in your home that asks you to think about what mistakes you’ve made recently and what you’re learning.
- Be generous and share. We tend to hide our mistakes because we believe they are embarrassing or make us weak. If mistakes are as wonderful as we say they are, then why shouldn’t we share them with the world? By being open about mistakes, you’re normalizing them both for yourself and for those you share them with. Our mistakes then stop being so scary and everyone gets to benefit from them.
- Be playful. Almost any game you play is an exercise in making mistakes and learning from them. Whether it’s on a soccer field or playing a board game, playing is a constant form of improv, and small-stakes risk taking. It’s the reason that most intelligent animals play when they’re young. And if games aren’t your thing, there are lots of ways to play. Rockclimbing, creative writing, even organizing your bedroom can be a form of play as long as you make it fun and engaging.
Imagine your playful life where mistakes are celebrated. What would you finally try that you never have? Who’s that person that you would finally talk to? Who would you get to be? While the answer for each of us is different, many of the results are the same. A more dynamic life, where creativity and innovation flow with ease. A life where we are more curious and open with those around us. Life with less fear and more LIFE! It’s the life I’d like to live, and I hope you would too.
So let’s start making mistakes together and see where we can go!
Learn more about speaker Brady Gill and how to bring him to campus: http://www.campuspeak.com/gill.