A Person who never made a mistake
never learned anything new.
- Albert Einstein
Most people are extremely critical of themselves for making a mistake. Many people are also equally judgmental of others for making what they view as errors. There is often not a lot of mental bandwidth for trying new (or old) things and not doing them well. There is often an assumption that if you can't do something well at first it's best not to continue, better to cut your losses and quit while you're ahead.
A mistake is often viewed (and felt) as something really horrible, humiliating, or shameful. It may feel irreparable if it involves another person or a work or school problem or situation. Often the impulse is to distance yourself from it as quickly as possible.
Yet as Einstein says in the quote ( and surely he made his share of mistakes before arriving at his brilliant theories!) it is impssible to learn something new if there is no space for making a mistake, if there is too much fear to try something new. A mistake is simply part of the learning process in each person's life journey ( or school, career or relationship). Can you allow yourself to learn from your mistakes instead of shutting down and not trying again?
Many people learned fear and avoidance of mistakes from childhood: from parents, teachers, peers, and church leaders or teachings. By adulthood mistakes can become something to avoid at any cost. However the cost is high: living a small, fearful, inhibited life.
I like to look at the word mistake as the two words that made it up: a mis-take. It makes me think of movie sets or recording sessions where the first "take" ( or often many "takes") are not what the director is looking for so s/he calls for "take two" or "take three" or however many "takes" are necessary to produce something new or satisfactory. Can you allow yourself that attitude about your "mis-takes?"
Peggy Handler, MFT, is a psychotherapist in San Francisco's Noe Valley