Sometimes in the middle of the day, totally by reflex or accident, I blurt out, “No” really loud. The word escapes my throat before I can stop it. I’m daydreaming about some mistake I made over the past 40 years and how embarrassing it was. How ashamed I feel. I want to take it back and I can’t help myself. Out it goes, “No.” “NO!” Claudia is used to it. My kids are used to it but sometimes if it’s in front of their friends they have to explain what’s happening.
Mistakes I’ve made in the past make me afraid to try new things in the future. I want to be perfect. I want every idea I have to make me money. I want every post I write to have 10,000 facebook likes. I want every talk I give to have people laughing at all the right jokes. I want everyone to like me all the time. With so many wants, and so much potential for things to go wrong, so much need for perfection, it’s hard to move forward in life.
Here’s the anatomy of a mistake:
- You have a goal. Make it a big goal. Room enough to have some mistakes. But not so big it kills you.
- You make mistakes achieving that goal
- You admit you were wrong
- You feel ashamed
- You feel afraid to make more mistakes
- You study the mistake – where did you go wrong. Why did you go wrong? When was the moment you realized you were wrong and how quickly did you try to rectify it? What could you have done differently? Why are you ashamed of it? Then repeat all of the above questions and see how your answers change. Then repeat again.
- Confess the mistake to the people it affected most. Honesty is hard to do before we die. Just dive in and do it.
- Tweak the goal (or replace it with a completely new one) and try again. Don’t be afraid to go head first into the unknown.
It’s hard to move past the “admit you were wrong” part. Most people insist they are right. They argue with everyone around them. “I was right!” They are never wrong! The cage gets tighter around them. Everyone makes mistakes. But let’s say only 10% admit them. The lies build up like a river of shit being held back by a giant dam, unable to escape into the ocean.
Then 10% of those who admit their mistakes actually move past the shame and fear. We’re afraid to make more mistakes so we stop trying new things. Every year we have fewer big goals. Fewer mistakes that can turn into valuable mentors.
We could’ve had a life of art and experience. A life where we become fully ourselves instead of a death filled with lies about all of our fake successes. But the brain is the worst tyrant and wants us to die shackled in the dungeon it created for us.
I can tell you this: Everything in my life that I am happy about it is the product of a huge mistake. I hope 2012 is filled with mistakes. I hope I admit them. I hope I can move past the shame. And, please god, let me stop blurting out “No!” in the middle of movies or dinners or just walking around in the street, horribly embarrassing the people I love the most.