“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”
- Albert Einstein
We are taught to be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes clash with our self preservation instincts. They are at odds with what our parents (generally) ingrained in us as children. Most children are naturally draw to exploration, to taking risks and to learning new things; all of which involve the possibility of making a mistake. However, children prioritise curiosity over safety as a general rule. That is why their parents are there to guide and teach them how to stay safe. And for the most part life involves a delicate balancing act between curiosity and safety; the desire to explore, learn and experience new things versus the desire to protect oneself and others.
However, at times the voice of the parent takes over and life becomes an exercise in safety, reflected in fear of change and eventually stagnation. At its core this behaviour can reflect a fear of ‘making a mistake’. What if we get it wrong? What if we make the incorrect choice? What if we fail? While it is most certainly important to consider the possible consequences of our actions and the potential outcomes, it is difficult if not impossible to be certain that any choice will not lead to failure. The need for certainty and the fear of change can stop us in our tracks. However, such thinking can lead to the only mistake worth worrying about; the mistake of never making a mistake!
Mistakes are vital to our growth and development. As a species, we learn through experience; we cannot learn to drive a car simply by knowing the theory, we must try it out for ourselves. We must fail to change the gears correctly many times before we get it right, we must take the wrong turn once or twice before figuring out the route, the car will cut out a few times before we find the delicate balance of pedals, gears and speed. Einstein assigned his genius to his ability to make mistakes over and over again and learn from each one until he solved a problem.
The fear of making mistakes leads to indecision and stagnation, a life of repetition and sameness which in some ways can be described as no life at all. While some choices and decisions can lead to negative outcomes that we didn’t want or expect, rather than seeing this as a failure and feeling regret, it might be more useful to learn what you can from the experience and use it to inform the next action i.e. rather than letting it trap you in indecision through fear and regret, see it as a step in the right direction. Most successful people have this healthy attitude towards mistakes and use their mistakes as fuel for their next action rather than allowing mistakes to stop them in their tracks.
The author Neil Gaiman put it wonderfully when he said “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.”
If you are going to fear anything, fear only making no mistakes. Life is for living and mistakes will be made. Learn from them, grown, change, develop, and embrace the next mistake!