“No person ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes.”
~William E. Gladstone
Many years ago, I was sitting in a large audience at an internal client meeting. The head of research was presenting new information – I don’t remember what exactly. What I do remember, stuck in my head for decades.
“We make many mistakes, but never the same one,” she said.
In many ways, as a society we have been taught to fear and avoid any and all mistakes. To aim for perfection, or to at least seem perfect. Especially in the work world, we might be told to take risks and try new things, but we’re also told not to take too big of a risk, and we’ve also seen others ‘punished’ for a risk gone awry.
But we can’t learn and grow if we don’t make mistakes. And we can’t become great or even very good, if we don’t try things and fail along the way.
I’m one of those people who can hate to learn something new because I hate not being good at things. Years ago, someone I trust deeply told me that I can’t know something before I know it (in response to my ingrained “I should have known that already!” comment). My brain is deeply carved to not make mistakes, to not be caught not knowing, to not let anything drop.
These “brain carvings” get in the way of my effectiveness – and happiness. They keep me from learning. They keep me from growing. They keep me from being my best and greatest self.
I’ve learned to quiet the internal voices that tell me mistakes are wrong. I’ve learned to teach my clients to allow – and even aim for – mistakes, so I’ve had to learn to teach that to myself as well.
Only by trying – and allowing for failing – can we produce our best work. Only by making every mistake once can we find the most effective ways to solve problems and move things forward. Only by giving ourselves (and others) permission to stumble, to slip, and to make many and great mistakes can we become good and great.
What’s your favorite mistake that you ever made? Why?
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