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A Take on Mistakes


The other day I was coaching someone who was clearly overwhelmed. She mentioned being afraid and I asked her if she could describe that fear. She said, “I fear making mistakes. I have to be perfect.”

I carried that sentence after the session and thought about not only the huge weight she was carrying, but also other people I knew (myself included) who have displayed that same pressure to perfectionism at times.

For the sake of clarity, I will use the word “mistake” simply in the sense of not achieving a specific desired outcome. I believe that everything we live and do is a meaningful part of our personal evolution journey.

Surely (no, not calling you Shirley - if you’re over 50, you’ll probably get the intended pun to bring a smile to the read), it’s hard to find someone saying “Yay! I love making mistakes, they are my favorite!”, but the utopian notion that we cannot and won’t make mistakes if we work hard to exhaustion is so unfair.

The coachee also mentioned she valued justice. How about self-justice? Was she fair to herself by setting up such an impossible demand? Perfection is an idealistic noun, while perfecting can be a hands-on, fun verb. “Making a mistake once is human. But if I keep repeating it, shame on me.” "Shame", what a word. I have been there many times, in the “shame" mindset. It still creeps up momentarily sometimes, but now I am aware and not beg, but state to differ. Sometimes, life happens and the ride is rough. Or we can get frozen, stuck, or not have the necessary energy or awareness to get out of the hamster wheel. To break the pattern, we might need some time - and that’s ok. Coaching, for instance, requires the person to be really ready to take action towards their goals. Even if they are not sure of which action yet, the will to change is a must. If it’s not the right time to invest in growth, it doesn’t mean that it will never happen. You will know when/if the time is right.

Who gets to decide that one second chance is all we get?

Resilience matters more than numbers to me. I personally believe that there isn’t a magic number or a rule that determines how many times you are allowed to “fail” before you give up on yourself. Every person has a story, a learning curve and so much they can do at a specific point in time. Of course, “mistake” is a broad word and its ramifications are a separate discussion - especially if they are consequential in a way that hurts others. I am focusing here in personal choices or missed targets that usually deal more with the person themselves.

How many marriages can you have? Of course, one “happily ever after” is always the goal, at least for most people. I don’t think many enter a marriage keeping the receipt for a possible return. It is a beautiful, deep, lifelong in premise legal commitment between two people - otherwise why not just be happy together without the traditional walk down the aisle? But what if it doesn’t happen that way for a truly deal-breaking reason? And then again? Divorce is a difficult process, and I believe all viable attempts should be made to prevent it, but if a marriage becomes impossible to continue, should there be a moral one-and-done-two-tops cap on pursuing happiness?

How many career shifts can you make before being labeled as a “choppy, all over the place resume” person? Some people know they want to be a doctor from teddy bear days, while others only realize they want to be a marine biologist after a summer trip to Costa Rica. Others need to explore more options to achieve better self-knowledge. And experience is such a rich asset.

How many times can you join and cancel the gym? How many (insert your attempt here), before judgement comes your way - from others and, even worse, from yourself - telling you that you are a lost cause that will never make it?

When you start to believe in limitations, you, well, limit your growth. You allow yourself to be defined by your past, rather than your core strength. And that is unfair. You might miss the fact that you might have survived those mis-takes, and life ahead is still full of blank pages and now you have a better hold of the pencil. As long as the yearning to succeed in that particular task is not extinguished, why stop? Naturally, revaluations and applying different strategies are often in order. The same strategy, same results mantra. Change elicits change, most often than not. I have seen, witnessed (and lived myself) many cases of “lost causes found.” People growing old together holding hands at sunset after having a few “happily ever afters” interrupted once, twice, three times... Stopping smoking for good after many unfruitful attempts. Getting healthier habits after 23 failed diets. Finding their calling in life after 8 different career paths. You got the idea.

Mis-takes are opportunities for growth, that is a common interpretation. Not that learning can’t be achieved through successes and pleasant experiences, “victory” certainly can leave its mark as strongly as a difficult “defeat”. Plus it feels great. But when we experience that loss of the success we expected, we are given the unique chance to go from “I couldn’t” to “I can now.” And that has a peculiar delicious taste of overcoming. It emphasizes that strength can be worked out as a muscle. It’s growth.

The fuel that feeds the forwarding movement? The reinventing yourself factor. Have you find

it yet?

Book a no obligation complimentary sample session now so we can talk about how to build confidence in your reinvention skills. Coaching can help.

It’s worth a try. Or several.


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© 2020 by Luisa Wholley