I’m not sure whether it’s part of my conditioning or an inherent part of my personality but making a mistake has always been a difficult pill for me to swallow. The word “wrong” has always occurred to me as somewhat blasphemous, and failure of any kind was always accompanied by a truckload of unpalatable feelings. So, to avoid feeling this way, getting it right became a bit of an obsession. I’d play safe and often avoid trying new things.
In many ways, perfectionism has been good to me. It’s a tool I’ve used effectively throughout life to motivate me to do more, strive more, and achieve more. It’s been one of my winning formulas. However, this type of motivation is often rooted in fear. Action motivated by fear tends to generate more fear, immobilising and ultimately robbing us of joy and inspiration. It can be a real downer and doesn’t exactly support a feel-good approach to life.
So I stand here before you – a recovering perfectionist.
Lately, I’ve been wondering about a life free of the pressure of perfectionism. How do we resist the need to get it right and the urge to beat ourselves up if we don’t? What if there was a way of feeling good about making mistakes?
Funnily enough, life seems to have a mysterious way of giving us what we need, often in the most unexpected ways.
When we moved to the U.S. to expand the business, we came across an exceptional school for our kids. Not only did we find a supportive environment for our girls, we found a community which was the perfect fit for our family combined with a progressive style of teaching that would not only educate our kids but would end up teaching me more than a thing or two about myself.
The school’s ethos and teaching methods involved getting through the academic curriculum, but also encourages a true love of learning. Instead of focusing on how much the kids get “right” they are encouraged to take risks: get it wrong, have fun, celebrate mistakes and learn from them… with the learning being the ultimate reward. (Not sure about you, but this was not my experience of school during my formative years).
This approach to learning encourages a “growth mindset”. This is an idea developed by Stanford University Psychologist, Carol Dweck, author of the book “Mindset” (check it out if you’re interested). My takeout from it is that intelligence and talent are not set in stone, but can, in fact, be developed through challenge and effort. Mistakes are an important part of challenging ourselves, and research shows that making mistakes (and learning from them) creates a deeper level of understanding and actually promotes brain development.
As you can see, it’s no coincidence I chose this school. Perhaps it chose me.
I’ve since started a different dialogue with my kids and a better internal dialogue with myself. Instead of focusing on results, I’m conscious of focusing on the learning. Around the dinner table when discussing our day, we’ve started talking about how we challenged ourselves, what mistakes we made, and what we learned from them. This type of empowering conversation makes learning paramount whilst removing any stigma associated with making mistakes.
To be honest, I think I’m the one learning the most during this process. The more I acknowledge my mistakes and shortfalls, the less potent they become. Making mistakes is taking on a whole new context for me.
To achieve big things I reckon we need to step outside our comfort zones and, in doing so, we risk failure. There’s no denying that making mistakes is a part of life. If we hold ourselves back in an effort to avoid them, we could miss out on some of life’s most important lessons and opportunities.
So here’s to embracing mistakes. Getting it wrong may be right after all.