From time to time on this site I address topics that are a little off from the normal “How to have fun in…” or “Luxury hotels in…” That’s because this is a blog, a personal reflection of me and no one else. In the past my introspective posts have helped me through some rough patches while simultaneously having the wonderful effect of also helping others. That is once again my goal here today, by talking about something that happens to all of us, making mistakes.
Mistakes Have Power
I write and even talk a lot about transforming one’s life from something toxic to a more positive way of living. In my own case, starting this blog was a major catalyst in changing my life, allowing me to leave my full-time job five years ago and to pursue as a professional a passion that has always consumed me, travel and exploring the world. But how I got here wasn’t through a series of well-executed decisions. No, I had no master plan, I had no grand scheme to make my passions my career. Instead, I made an incredible series of mistakes that all eventually led me here. I’m not talking about mistaking salt for sugar, I’m talking about consequential errors in life. You know the kind, when you have that knot in your stomach, your heart beats a little faster and suddenly you know you’ve done something wrong. Yeah, that kind of mistake. That’s how I find myself where I am today. Not through an incredible series of amazing decisions and luck. No, I’m here through a series of somewhat sad mistakes. From choosing the wrong first job to ignoring my better instincts, a web of errors came together to ultimately make life a lot more enjoyable for me. Weird, huh?
I bet I’m not alone in this either. Look back at your own life. How much of it has gone exactly to plan, the way you imagined it would when you were playing dress-up as a kid? I’m willing to bet that not much of it has realized itself in the way you thought it would. No, instead what is more likely is that a complex series of errors, mistakes and just plain random occurrences all colluded to put you where you are right now at this moment. That means that mistakes shouldn’t be avoided, failure is not a bad thing. No, failure has power, mistakes have power if we know how to use them when they occur.
People ask me all the time how they can follow their dreams in life like I did. I wish I had a good answer for them, but I don’t. I suppose I could make something up, become one of those snake-oil selling self-help people, do a TED talk and make some cash from all of it. But that’s not who I am and besides, the real answer is one that people don’t usually like to hear. At the core of our life decisions is almost always fear. Here’s the irony of it all though, what we usually fear is the one thing that will actually spur us on to greater success – failure and making mistakes.
Fear governs our decision making in all aspects of life, from the simplest of decisions to those life-altering ones. But what is it that makes us so scared of failure, of making a mistake? There’s a great power to a well-timed mistake. We learn from them, with each failure a little bit of the overall puzzle is revealed giving us a clearer path to success. No great person has ever, ever had a life without failure. What makes them different from us is that they had the bravery, the fortitude to take the chance at failure. It’s no small thing, to put oneself out there; trying to do something different is scary but those who do will, ultimately, succeed. To fail, therefore, is a clear sign of bravery and indication that you’re doing something right.
The maxim is ancient, learn from your mistakes. It’s been passed down through the generations in a variety of languages and cultures, but that doesn’t make it any easier to practice in real life. But it’s that ability not just to accept a personal failure, but to then use it that is essential in moving forward. When I mistakes, they tend to be consequential. I don’t mess around with the small stuff sadly. Looking back at my life, I can pinpoint these dynamic mistakes and chronicle how they in turn impacted my life, but not always in a bad way. While at the time I thought the worst had happened and my life was over, the net effect was actually to transform my life into something better than before. What that has taught me then is that wallowing in self-pity or lamenting that which cannot be changed is not a good use of one’s energy. No, instead I now know that when these monumental errors happen, I need to analyze them as quickly as possible and try to reason out what the failures mean. What direction they are pointing me in and how they will ultimately change my life. There’s no doubt that they will in some way change my life, but I think it’s up to me to determine whether that change is positive or negative in the long term.
Our mistakes do not define us as human beings. By definition, they are outliers, they are not the norm and they are not who we are. No one is a failure, instead people fail. There’s an important distinction there and understanding the difference is key to actualizing a happier and healthier life.
I’m a little preachy today obviously, but it’s been a hard 12 months for me and I have failed many times in a variety of ways and have had to deal with the failures of others. At times I didn’t want to get out of bed, but it was ultimately thinking of myself NOT as a failure, but as a person with mistakes on his record that made all the difference. We’re all human, which is why we have to treat everyone, including ourselves, with kindness and humanity and to learn how to accept mistakes in ourselves AND others when they occur.