Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
— Albert Einstein
As I was making lunch today I heard an interesting CBC interview with Brene Brown a social work professor and author of The Gifts of Imperfection. The discussion centred on the merits of accepting personal imperfections and learning that mistakes are part of living.
The interview made me think about how important it is for the postworksavvy to have the courage to try new things and make mistakes. It is easier to stay stuck in a rut than risk making changes that might be a mistakes. We allow ourselves to be passive learners rather than risk making ourselves vulnerable with active learning that requires practise and gradual development of new skills.
As adults we have difficulty accepting that acquiring new skills involves mistakes — often lots of mistakes — before we can incorporate the new knowledge and use the new skills with success. We expect perfection and excellence after early attempts — whether it is learning to ski, learning to paint, learning photography, or learning to play an instrument. When we try new things and fail, it is easier to give up and not see the mistake as part of the learning experience. Attempts are dismissed with excuses — no talent, bad teacher, or too old for new learning. The harsh self-judgement of our failed attempts when learning and trying new behaviours stops us. It is difficult to accept that success comes with repetition, skill, patience, perseverance and, yes, with many mistakes and failed attempts.
Avoiding public embarrassment is particularly important for adults because many of us, as children, suffered through classroom experiences that made us feel ashamed if we gave an incorrect answer or if our work did not meet the teacher’s expectations. These hurtful experiences can carry over into adulthood. We like to feel safe so we don’t take risks because of the fear of criticism or failure. Making a mistake takes courage.
Gifted educators know the importance of ensuring that students are not made to look ‘bad’ or stupid in front of others. Smart teachers correct student mistakes privately and encourage all sincere efforts so that the students do not interpret mistakes or failures as personal inadequacies or personal short-comings.
To enjoy retirement and keep the mind sharp, accepting a certain amount of imperfection in the process of learning and developing new skills will help to keep frustration at bay. Remember there is a learning curve as you grasp new knowledge. The postworksavvy knows that many skills now taken for granted were acquired slowly — sometimes over a many years. A tolerance for mistakes is essential for mastery of a new behaviour. As a child, you didn’t learn to skate or to swim or to ride a bike with the first try so why have those expectations? I still treasure the small watercolour painting that I did at the first class I took — even though I would never describe myself as a painter much less, an artist.
If we lighten up and laugh at the clumsiness that comes with trying new skills rather than expecting excellent performances, it will be easier to allow forgiveness with failed attempts. Self-judgement can be the harshest of critics so be kind with your own self-talk.
Each try will bring new learning so it is important to trust that you will improve. Persevere through the difficult times by focusing on what is improving. Therapists refer to this a building on your strengths. As well, don’t stop with first attempts — you have to put in the hours if you are going to master complex new learning. You might need to practise daily and make the same mistakes over and over before you start to make the improvements that you are striving for. Great writers don’t just sit down and complete a bestseller; they write and re-write and stick with it through many iterations.
Recognizing that mistakes are the first step in learning gives patience in taking small steps. As we find that the mistakes are experiences that will lead to improvements, we will learn to enjoy the process involved with gradually acquiring new skills and incorporating new knowledge. Discipline, tenacity and determination are essential if we are to achieve the goal that motivated us to begin.
Most of all, don’t quit. Follow your dream. Have the courage to allow mistakes as you tap into your reservoir of talent, intelligence and creativity.
Thanks for reading this post. I’m interested in your thoughts so please send your comments.