I don’t know about you, but I used to hate making mistakes! I remember when I was young, I wanted to please my parents, teachers, and friends. I equated approval from others as a measure of self-worth. The last thing I wanted to do was let someone down – for two reasons. First, I didn’t want to hurt or upset another person, and second, I wanted to be enough.

From a young age, I learned that getting A’s was much better than getting C’s or worse yet, D’s. So, with this understanding, I concluded that it is better to be perfect than imperfect. Mistakes were an indication of a failure, or so I thought.

I can not tell you how many times my Mom used to say to me, “Stop beating yourself up.” If I messed up, I would play the situation out over and over in my head, looking for the moment that I could have done something different. I thought that if I spent enough time thinking about what I did wrong, that would ensure my future success! There was no way I could make the same mistake again if I analyzed the situation thoroughly! Plus, the more time I spent thinking about what I had done wrong, clearly that must show people how much I care and that I am a good person. Boy, was I wrong!

A couple of years ago, I was watching Oprah’s, Super Soul Sunday, one of my absolute favorite TV shows. Pema Chödrön was being interviewed and spoke about the idea of failure. Pema had given a speech at her grand-daughters’ graduation from Naropa University that talked about learning to fail. She shared that we are not taught how to fail and embrace our vulnerability in the process. We think success means that things work out the way that we want them to. How often does that happen? Not very often, and moreover, in the meantime, we miss some compelling opportunities to learn. She even claims that failing offers us an excellent place for contemplation, more profound reflection, kindness, and compassion. What?!?! Is failure good? Survey says, YES.

So, let’s consider what successful people have figured out. Successful people look at failure as part of the journey. Often, they have experienced more rejection and failure and chose to rise above it. The thought process of successful people is viewing failure/mistakes as indications of trying, taking risks, and being willing to learn.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” Woody Allen

“I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Bill Gates

“The reality is, sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose, you’re never too big to lose, you’re never too smart to lose, it happens. And it happens when it needs to happen. And you have to embrace those things.” Beyoncé

“I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

As I was reading more about failure, I realized that the difference between successful people and people who are not is the willingness to fail! Yes, they are willing to fail and would rather fail, then not try. How innovative and more so, freeing!

I thought a lot about the wise words that Pema talked about and considered my own experience of how I was viewing making mistakes and failing. I needed to rework my ideas around this. Partly because I was exhausted, but more so, because I was so over with feeling shame and regret. Not only did it feel bad, but focusing on what I had done wrong, didn’t lead me to learn. The more I focused on the mistake, the more shame I felt. It was a vicious cycle and was unproductive.

I made a conscious choice to embrace mistakes and failures. I gave myself permission to be imperfect. I had absolutely NO idea how great of a feeling that was going to be! Now, when I make a mistake, I am quick to recognize it, figure out what I can do to make it better, and then I move on. I don’t spend time beating myself up, focusing on what I did wrong, or wishing I could have done it differently. All that did was lead to low self-esteem, negativity, and did not fix anything. What’s worse, it often led me to isolate myself and not try things. What nonsense!

Here’s the deal, life is a classroom, and we are always learning. Part of learning is failing. We need to change our thinking so that we can focus more on the correction, and lesson, and moving forward.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Theodore Roosevelt Paris, France April 23, 1910

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