I don’t know how often I’ve heard people talk about mistakes as if they were some huge monster to be avoided at all costs. Our school system contributes a lot to this if I’m being honest. We get brought up learning that there is only one correct way to do things and everything else is punishable by death. I’m kidding but I can remember the horror of getting a piece of work back that was smothered with the dreaded red pen marks. Being wrong was just awful.
Luckily I’ve come such a long way since then and have seen that this earlier way of thinking couldn’t have been further from the truth.
What our society terms as a ‘mistake’ is in fact a very valuable piece of information or feedback that is being given to you, so that you can correct your course and zoom in better on your goal.
There have been so many magnificent scientists, engineers, inventors and researchers on our planet over the centuries who have dedicated their lives to researching, experimenting and persevering in working towards finding out more about the things they were passionate about and finding answers to their burning questions.
They set up a hypothesis or asked a question and then took a first question in their quest for finding a solution. The journeys they went on were probably real roller-coaster rides, taking them to the brink, testing their patience and trust in the process. I wonder how often they tried something out with a particular expectation and found it just fell flat.
But that was certainly no reason to give up. Their amazing mindset looked at what happened and then readjusted. Now they knew that what they did was not the answer they were looking for, so they moved onto the next factor. It was said Edison tried out thousands of different filaments in his search that led him to discover that a carbon one in an oxygen-free bulb could last 1500 hours before burning up.
Minds like these know that what others would call a mistake, is valuable feedback and is certainly not a reason to feel upset or judge themselves by.
When I take a moment to think about how I react to things not turning out the way I expected them to, I can see that the more I am detached from the outcome, the easier it is for me to look and see what feedback I am getting. There’s alway something valuable there for us without exception. It depends on our willingness to be open to it and accept it.
And I know with certainty that when I have tried things and they seemed to flop, I learned things that I would otherwise have missed out on. There are certain lessons that we can’t learn from books or other people. We learn how to refine things, how to approach things from a different angle, we get deep insights as to what is really going on, we learn interpersonal skills. The list is endless.
One example that I’d like to share with you is when I was preparing for a trade fair a few years back in Birmingham, UK. I was living in Ireland at the time and so counted as a foreigner with regards tax. I had to apply for a VAT refund and made a phonecall, got the forms and thought I had it all sorted. But no, it turned out that my application fell under the previous tax year because I had first contacted the fair organisers then. I had one and a half years to submit the papers, yes, but what they omitted to tell me was, one and a half years from the beginning of the tax year in which I had first signed up for the fair. Mine was dated at the end of the tax year and so I really only had 6 months. And it meant I didn’t get back the large sum of money I had been hoping for.
This was such a valuable lesson for me in money matters as it brought home to me the importance of not placing my financial questions in the hands of someone on the other end of the phone, but taking the time to read the small print and make sure I have got a good understanding of things myself. And if in doubt, hire an expert to help me.
Nowadays I love to dig and research and find things out or find someone who really knows. So I’m grateful for that sharp awakening.
There are no mistakes. Be thankful for the valuable feedback and put it in your bag of tools for the next step.
Do you have any experiences of things that might have looked like mistakes but gave you great insights and learning? I’d love to hear about them here.