I’m pretty sure plenty of people would agree I’ve fallen flat on my face – physically as well as metaphorically – quite spectacularly many, many times. But apart from a few obvious ones like smoking cigarettes and drinking too much wine, I’ve tried hard to never make the same mistake twice.
Mistakes are important – they teach us what works and what doesn’t and sometimes, lead us to create something that works extremely well. So my new aim is not to stop making mistakes, but to only make good ones. If I’m going to fail, I want to fail big. From now on, I want all my mistakes to matter.
Each failure is a stepping stone to success
Living through failures makes eventual success so sweet. I recently baked birthday cupcakes for a party but they had to be sugar, dairy and gluten-free to allow everyone there to eat them. I finally got to something that could be consumed without me wincing, swallowing a gallon of water or that could double as a ship anchor on about batch 12. But I did it. And nobody died when they ate them. Success. Each crappy batch I made took time but it was time well spent because I got there in the end.
I’m writing this post having spent the past few days at Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Conference 2013, in Boston, USA, and the idea of creating something new from making mistakes has been a common theme. As a mistake-making expert, I’m delighted to agree with Arianna Huffington, Seth Godin and lots of the other inspirational speakers that being someone who falls over a lot is not necessarily a bad thing. Mistakes and failures mean you’re not afraid to take risks, to experiment. They mean you’re more concerned with cutting your own path than following a well-mapped road of someone else’s design.
Arianna also spoke about how important it is to sleep and recharge in order to be at your best. She gave a recent must-watched TED talk expounding the virtues of sleeping your way to the top. Without downtime, our uptime diminishes in value. But what if our restful nights are spent sweating and cringing about a million little things we’ve cocked up during the day? No amount of Zen-filled, Feng Shui planned, gadget-free bedroom space can prevent the demons we create for ourselves invading the dark hours when we should be swimming in our happy dreamy place. Small mistakes can accumulate and become big, pointless ones by default.
Sweating the small stuff can rob us of making the one big mistake that could change everything.
Make the mistakes that count
So the thing I’ve taken away with me from Inbound is how I want to apply quality control to my mistakes. I want to live my life as if there’s no delete key.
What would I do differently if I couldn’t rub it out?
Mistakes are going to happen to us, regardless of how hard we try to avoid them. By being just a tad more careful, more considered, less slap-dash, I think I can side step many of the little ones. Imagine: no f%#€ ups means no messes to mop up = far more time to fail dramatically. The biggest, most powerful messes can’t be mopped up. They have to be lived through, grown around, learned from.
Once I thought of this, it changed my outlook immediately. If I take away the safety net of the delete key I have to think more clearly about everything I do. I simply have to make sure I don’t make silly little errors – so I tried it and this is what I discovered:
If I write without being able to delete anything, I have to think ahead to the next sentence before I write it, think about the final line of my post before I write the first. And instead of feeling nervous because I can no longer make little mistakes, it makes me more efficient. Not filling up my day with little mistakes leaves me more time to fall over on a scale I’ve not even thought of yet. Because I haven’t had the time.
The final word goes to Nate Silver and his quote from Piet Hein:
The road to wisdom? Well it’s plain and simple to express: Err and err and err again but less and less and less.