Mistakes are something I’m particularly accomplished at. In fact, I could quite legitimately include ‘making mistakes’ on my CV as one of my accomplishments in life. World-class standard doesn’t even come close. Mistakes in school. Mistakes with fashion (I grew up in the 70’s what d’ya expect?!?) Mistakes with men. Mistakes with jobs. Mistakes with hairstyles (think 80’s perm). Mistakes with friendships. Mistakes with trust. You name it, if there was a way to learn something from making a mistake I would find it.
Throughout this time, I’d been equally accomplished at beating myself up about the mistake. In fact, it’s only with age that the wisdom of making mistakes has dawned upon me. They may not be the simplest way to learn something, they do however, make for a valuable and lifelong lesson. I tend not to repeat mistakes, largely because I have a pathological loathing of getting stuff wrong, but mostly because I hate how it left me feeling; the overwhelming sadness and shame was almost suffocating. All of which was self-imposed.
I was never afraid of saying I didn’t understand something, even at primary school, but I was genuinely frightened of getting ‘it’ wrong. However, I now embrace mistakes and being wrong as part of my thinking and originality (it’s all about perspective after all). I like to think of myself as a work in progress rather than a perfect (and frankly boring) individual.
Sadly, we now live in a culture where the majority of schools, companies, politics, media, and institutions view mistakes as a sign of weakness. As something to be pounced on. A blot on your copy book. A thing to be suspicious of. Which has led to the inevitable risk averse culture, or even more pernicious, the blame culture prevalent today. Many of the conversations I have with young people centre around their fear of making a mistake, to which I ask them the same question I began to ask myself – ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ – rarely are the consequences life threatening, or even life changing. Mostly they concern what people might think of us.
As a wise friend once said to me “what others think of you is none of your business”. Think about it. There is so much truth in this. Add to this the fact that others are going to think what they’re going to think and there is very little to be done about it. If I had one wish (apart from to have thin thighs), it would be to have had this wisdom in my 20’s. The energy and time I would have saved!!
I believe Helen Mirren said it best when asked what one piece of advice would she give to her younger self by replying “use the words fuck off far more frequently”. Bravo! So the next time you find yourself silently obsessing about a mistake you’ve made turn it around and ask yourself only 2 questions –
- What have I learnt?
- What will I do differently?
All else is madness.