I am not talking about the kind of mistakes that cause death and destruction, rather the kind that occur daily, little by little . . . anywhere from benign fashion faux pas (shoes – no socks . . . socks – no shoes) to inexplicable food choices (bring on bacon, butter, cheese, mayo and high cholesterol) to more egregious errors (forgot to pay the mortgage, pick up a child, turn off the kitchen faucet).
Well, we all make mistakes. But, is it okay, really?
Growing up, according to my parents, no one should be afraid of making mistakes. After all, they would say, Thomas Edison, American inventor extraordinaire, led the world in mistakes: “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.” Of course, Mr. Edison redeemed himself after making all those mistakes by inventing . . . a lot of . . . everything. After all, just flipping on the nearest light switch is a constant reminder of what he accomplished.
And they would remind me that Babe Ruth, beloved 20th century baseball legend, wasn’t afraid of mistakes. I am not sure when Babe said this, but I think it was directly to my folks immediately prior to the moment of one of my greatest mistakes because that is when I heard it repeated: “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” Babe, of course, may have had 1330 career strike outs, but he also had 714 career home runs, and played for a team that still holds many baseball records, and . . . looked good in stripes.
But I am neither a world class entrepreneur nor sports icon. So, is it really okay – for me – to make mistakes?
Extrapolating a little, according to Nike, it is. The Nike Corporation has built an empire on the phrase “Just Do It,” which seems to imply that regardless of level of success, people should go ahead and try. Not to worry about the opportunities for failure, just do it. Not to think about unintended consequences, just do it. Not to fret the time away and see life pass by, just do it. And there are a dozen more such sayings relative to mistakes that most of us can repeat without too much prodding. They are great thoughts to live by, but, again, is it really okay?
Even the simplest of mistakes can be costly. Just think about the financial implications of overcooking (more aptly put – burning the boots off) the Thanksgiving turkey. First bird is bought, baked, burnt, and set aside as uneatable. Second bird must be bought and baked, and first bird must be buried. Double the oven hours, double the prep hours, double the cost of the turkey, double the trip to the grocery store, include the trip to trash bin for first bird, and the time patiently waiting to eat. Counting up the time, energy consumption, and money means that the average wallet will – pound for pound – be reduced significantly. (I may have experience with this mistake.)
And, what about the simple mistake of forgetting to put a stamp on an outgoing letter. (I am certain I have experience with this one!) Just think about how many people will have interacted with the naked envelope before it returns back to the original mail box marked “insufficient postage.” A letter without a stamp may have traveled many miles in its erroneous round-trip journey – certainly incurring more than its original 44 cent pre-mistake cost.
Just recently, however, I learned a great lesson about mistakes from the youngest member of the family, a character who is five years old and is just starting on the long journey into the world of mistakes. He went to watch a local parade early one morning. He was wearing a bulky sweatshirt and a pair of straight leg Levi jeans.
As he bent over to reach for some parade candy that had been tossed to the ground inches in front of him, the crowd behind him noticed that he was wearing his jeans backwards . . . front pockets and zipper in the back.
Someone asked him why he was wearing them the wrong way. He responded with a chuckle. “I don’t have them on wrong,” he said. “Your eyes don’t see ‘em right.” And with no cares in the world, he went back to happily collecting parade candy. No time to waste.
His quick comment conjured up thoughts of a favorite National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, and his dvd – Extraordinary Visions. Within this dvd, Dewitt asks folks to reframe their vision, to turn problems into opportunities. Mistakes are only mistakes if we see them as mistakes. See them as opportunities and they become opportunities. Every mistake is a learning moment.
So every time we forget to stamp an envelope, every time we misplace our keys, every time we spill a glass of water, we have an opportunity to learn. Maybe it isn’t the easiest way to learn and maybe we don’t learn a lot, but this type of plan is much more interesting than a more traditional non-mistake learning one.
That burnt black turkey may not have been great for human consumption, but tossing it into the woods, I learned a lot about what coyotes and crows are willing to eat.
Dewitt also challenges folks to always remember that for every situation “there’s more than one right answer.” Thus, using Dewitt’s logic, some mistakes aren’t mistakes after all; rather, they are just another right answer pulled from the never-ending arsenal of right answers. Or, in the case of the straight leg Levi jeans, just another way to wear them.