Making Mistakes

September 4, 2012

In the English language we don’t say, “They made so many mistakes in the past that they know how to avoid them in the future.” Instead we say, “They’re experienced”. Making mistakes is what gives you experience. If you come out of college, and for your whole career never made one mistake, then only one of two things have happened: 1) You are bull[sh*t]ing yourself 2) You have never tried anything outside of your comfort zone. “Comfort zone” refers to things you already know how to do well. When you step outside your comfort zone, you will make mistakes, and the question then is how to recover.

In the rare times someone asks me to describe myself, I have thought of describing myself as a “Professional Mistake Maker.” It’s true — that’s what I do for a living. I never try things that are in my comfort zone. Never. I find them dreadfully boring. My God, who wants to do again something you already know how to do well? It’s like getting another gold medal for a race you know you’re going to win. After 100 races, who cares anymore? It’s so much more stimulating to come in last to a race you thought you could win, only to find out you have a lot more to learn. And really, this is the root cause of mistakes: a desire to learn.

Making mistakes is an art form. It’s a beautiful dance of failure, and one whose bittersweet sting I’ve come to enjoy. Failing is simply a strong indicator that, perhaps, I need to change my approach. Failing completely and utterly (which I’ve done several times) means only that I need to change directions. If there is one piece of advice a sage Professional Mistake Maker can give you it’s this: Acknowledge your mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up, and try again. Keep that up for a decade or so and you will be what other people refer to as experienced, but more importantly, you will have a sense of life accomplishment that those who stayed in the comfort zone will never know.

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