Mastery: Making Mistakes Without Invalidating Oneself

Yay we had a learning experience (2)As human beings we all make mistakes. It’s part of life. So why is it that even the smallest error which may have little to no consequence, can make some of us feel like failures? It all goes back to our programming. We’ve talked before about the crucial core beliefs we learned as children from either our parents or other significant authority figures in our lives. For many of us, we heard things like “Why can’t you do things right?” “You didn’t try hard enough”. “Why can’t you get A’s like your sister?” These early interactions shaped how we view ourselves as adults. If we felt overly criticized as a child, we may attach our worth as an adult to having to be perfect.

In reality, the only failure is the failure to participate. Without the risk of missing the mark, we will never reach the heights of our true potential. Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything”. He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive”. As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps”. Edison did not give up. He didn’t view each unsuccessful attempt as a failure but rather as a “learning experience”.

Have you ever seen a baby learning to walk? There is no shame, no embarrassment. As babies, we didn’t yet have the programming to stop us from taking risks out of fear of failure. We learned to crawl and eventually, we grew stronger and began to pull ourselves up and stand. Then we took our first step and BAM! On the floor we landed. But it didn’t phase us. Most babies fall over a hundred times before learning to walk. But they don’t give up. They don’t think, “Oh, I’m not doing this as fast as Tommy did” or “Mommy will be disappointed if I don’t take ten steps in a row”. They just keep putting one foot in front of the other until they are walking.

One reason we may tend to invalidate ourselves when making a mistake is because of how it affects others. If your action or non-action causes someone else hardship or discomfort, it may trigger you to shame and blame yourself. But remember. You are responsible for your actions, thoughts and deeds, but you are not responsible for how others respond. All you can do is take responsibility, do what is in your power to correct the situation and learn from the experience.

Another reason we may invalidate ourselves is when we fail to stick to a plan. Let’s say you have a goal to write a book. You lay out your plan to write 1,000 words per day. But then life gets busy and you find you are only writing a couple hundred words a day and sometimes go days or even weeks without writing anything. You may feel like a failure for not sticking to your plan exactly so you abandon the project. Did you know that an airplane is off course 99% of the time on the way to its destination? The airline pilot constantly “fails” to fly in a straight line. He or she is forced to make continual readjustments. By doing so, the plane arrives at the correct destination. Consistency and flexibility is the key. And by the way, in the above example, had you continued to write an average of just 200 words a day, skipping days and weeks, in one year you would have written close to 70,000 words!

Mistakes are universal. You don’t have to be perfect. You are not a failure because you made an error or forgot to do something. It means you are human. It means you are living in the world. Remember, if you are afraid to fail, you already have. The biggest mistake is not making enough mistakes, because that is how we learn what doesn’t work, which will eventually lead you to what does. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and who knows? You may be 500 “learning experiences” away to the next big invention that will change the world!