Previously, I wrote a blog post about how spectacular mistakes can lead to spectacular success. Without letting go of fear of the former, we cannot have the latter. In this post I want to discuss why we should get excited about making mistakes – many of them. Perhaps it’s poor writing fashion, but I will risk giving away the punch line up front: with every mistake we make we learn at least one thing that doesn’t work and have the opportunity to discover at least one correction. If we look at it that way, our technique can only improve with every mistake we make, thus the more mistakes we make, the better off we are.
Since moving back to NYC from St. Louis, I have had significantly more opportunities to spend time with my baby niece. In the last few months she has been working on walking. I am not sure there is any better example by which to observe the learning process. Babies have no sense of self-consciousness thus they cannot be hindered or distracted by it. Babies simply try and try again. I have watched my niece walk along the walls, furniture, or while supported by both hands. One day I refused to take her other hand and only extended a finger for her to hold on to – she complied. She was doing fine and then she lost her footing and she fell – broke my heart. I then realized, falling is the best thing that could have happened to her. She took a misstep and failed at walking. Walking successfully requires a specific balance, pace, and step. She did not successfully execute those elements and as a result, she fell. Falling was the only form of feedback she could receive that would indicate an error in execution. If I held her arm I would have caught her as soon as she lost her footing and she may not have realized her error. This is why I felt it was important she only hold on to my finger. Ultimately I was there to catch her if she was falling onto something that might hurt her seriously, but I needed to make sure I let her fall otherwise. Sometimes she fell on her butt (which is fortunately reinforced by her diaper and baby fat, haha) and other times she fell on forward onto her knees. Sometimes the fall would scare her more than hurt her and she would cry and I was there to sooth her, but falling was critical to her ultimate success because it gave her feedback on what she was doing.
When she finally started walking on her own without any assistance at all, all of us could see her figuring out all of the intricacies of walking. When she almost lost her balance she would stop, rebalance, and continue. If she took a misstep, she would quickly stop and correct it. If she her pace was too fast, she would stop and slow down. What we all saw that night was the beautiful process that is learning from mistakes. Without her many mistakes she would not have learned how to identify those errors and correct them on the spot. Not to mention, these experiences also contributed to building character but I’ll leave that for another blog post.
Are you avoiding mistakes in your career and/or personal life? Allow yourself to make a mistake today. Take a chance today, be aware of your failure, and identify at least one thing you can do to correct it. Then try again. Remember, the more mistakes you make, the better you will be at the skill you are trying to improve.