Are you making any mistakes lately? I hope so! Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.
Mistakes are a way of life. Everybody makes little mistakes all the time. Things like missing a turn while driving, leaving a typo in an important document, or forgetting to add an attachment to an email. While these are still mistakes, we don’t worry about them too much. We correct them and move on.
Then there are the mistakes that we fear. Mistakes that we label the “wrong” decision, such as taking a job we dislike, or dating a person who isn’t right for us, or buying a car that is a lemon, or, or, or… You know what we mean. Mistakes make us feel less than perfect, so we try to avoid them as much as we can.
Yet, mistakes can be an important part of learning and growing. As Susan wrote in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, “When you consider that mistakes are an integral part of living, it is amazing how we are taught to think we must be perfect. This mistake in our thinking, that we must try to be perfect, has created many fears about being adventurous and trying out new territories.”
We are all taught to feel that making a mistake means we are not living up to our potential. Remember in math class when you got a big, red minus sign next to a problem you got wrong? We are taught that making a mistake means we have done something bad. That we are less than perfect. That’s absurd thinking! When we feel like we need to be perfect, it means we are trying to control the outcome. When we try to control how things will turn out, we become petrified about making changes or trying something new. “No one has ever said that ‘being perfect’ made them happier or feel more fulfilled. In fact, the ideal of being perfect is one of the biggest fabrications that we tell ourselves,” said Susan.
Making a mistake is just as important as not making a mistake, maybe even more important. Just as it’s important to find out what you don’t want as opposed to what you do want. This is how we grow as a person. The only way to stretch and expand our lived experiences is to get out of our comfort zone and take a risk.
“You are not going to succeed in everything you attempt in life,” Susan wrote. “That’s guaranteed. In fact, the more you do in life, the more chance there is not to succeed in some things. Look at how rich your life can be, however, from your many adventures.”
Susan uses the example of batting in baseball. Most players in the major leagues have an average of .300—which means that the player hits the ball only three times out of every ten times at bat. Very few players achieve a .400 average. As Susan said, “That’s a champion’s performance—and yet it falls short of perfect—and most of us are just beginners!”
If we look at our own “performance” in our lives, we can likely see that we are not batting an average of .400. Not even close. How many resumes do you have to send out before you get that new job? How many dates do you have to go on before you find the right person? How much work do you have to put in trying before you get that recipe just right or practice knitting a scarf before you can knit a sweater? Everything we do requires taking a chance that the end result won’t be perfect, or even passable. It is the trying that makes our lives richer. It is taking the chance that is the important thing. It is the journey, not the end result, that helps us to expand and grow and learn.
“After much consideration,” wrote Susan, “I have come to the conclusion that if you haven’t made any mistakes lately, you must be doing something wrong. You are taking no risks—nor are you enjoying the goodies life has to offer. What a waste!”
Take a moment now to think about ways that you are avoiding something new out of a fear of making a mistake. Whether that something is small or large, easy or hard, you must find a way through your fear of failing and do it. Because, as Susan taught us, there is nothing to fear in life if we know that we can handle it. And that includes mistakes.