Monday, October 18, 2010

Make No Mistake

I used to believe in mistakes. I used to make myself wrong for every decision I made that did not turn out the way I wanted it to or thought it should. I can still in weak moments go down the path of wondering how different things would be if I had taken the left fork instead of the right one, if I had chosen A instead of C from the menu. I have spent hours agonizing and second guessing myself after the fact. I have learned that is nothing but a waste of energy. I have learned not to believe in mistakes.

Don't get me wrong. I am not without error. I have been known when not paying attention to get on an uptown train when I was supposed to be going downtown. I make "mistakes." But I've stopped believing in mistakes as a wrong.  I've chosen instead to view them as part of my learning, part of who I am, of what makes me the person I am at this very moment and of what I need to learn as part of my journey.

I've been thinking how in our glass half empty culture we seem consumed with the idea of making mistakes. The headlines are filled with articles that are  lists of  mistakes to avoid, from marketing mistakes to investment mistakes to dating mistakes. We seem obsessed with this idea of doing something "wrong". I recently read a blog post entitled My 52 Mistakes. I know the woman who wrote it. She is bright, successful and like me a corporate expatriate. Yet, I was troubled by the subject. Mostly because of that word.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines mistake as "an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong." My question is who determines what is wrong?  My "wrong" could be someone else's "right" and if that is so than can we really learn from another's mistakes?  No matter how many times we might be told that is not the way to go, will we really ever get it if  we don't experience it ourselves?  And isn't is so that often we never get to our "right" unless we fall a few times first?  Isn't that part of what we are supposed to be here to do? To learn our individual path even if someone else says it is not the way to go? That what we are doing is "wrong"?

I would argue that as women we are inherently more afraid of making mistakes. The patriarchy that has existed for the last two thousand years  subjugated women in fear. If we did something wrong, made a mistake according to the rules someone else made up we might be physically hurt or made to suffer. We live with more of a fear of making "mistakes" than men do, sometimes to the point that it freezes us in our actions.

I've taken to viewing my "mistakes" as perfection. If I wind up on that uptown train when I should be going downtown I have a choice. I can get all twisted and mad at myself, worrying that I'll be late for wherever I was going or I can laugh  and rest that perhaps there is a reason that happened. Perhaps I am supposed to be going uptown, that there is something I need to see in that direction, someone I need to meet, something I need to learn that would not have happened going the opposite way Even if it doesn't seem clear at that moment I am going exactly where I am supposed to. Make no mistake about it.

Do you believe in "mistakes"?
Do you think women are more concerned with making "mistakes" than men are?
Does the fear of making a "mistake" keep you frozen in your tracks?


Kathy Caprino said...

Hi Joanne - thanks for your great, thought-provoking post. Love your comments. I launched My 52 Mistakes project for just this reason - to help women look at how they view "mistakes" and gain clarity about their views, and any fears and blocks around making mistakes.

For the record, I believe that all that occurs in our lives can be for our highest good -- if we approach our experiences with eyes wide open -- awareness, courage, and compassion. I don't believe in regretting our mistakes. I believe in looking at what we've done, seeing how it took us on a detour away from ourselves, and in revising our course - continually, with vigilance, faith, and persistence.

But I'd add that the latest fad of believing "there are no mistakes" is a mistake!! Of course we make mistakes - we're not perfect. Why should we hide from the fact that we make mistakes? And yes, my research shows that women do fear mistakes, and their mistakes wreak havoc on women's self-esteem, more so than for men. Women in general expend an enormous amount of energy hiding their mistakes -- from themselves and others. To me, the question is not did we make mistakes, but what did we learn from them, and how can we shift our course for greater joy.

Thanks for sharing, and continuing the conversation! And I hope your readers will comment here and on my blog:
My 52 Mistakes-

Let's keep it going! Thanks, Joanne.

Unknown said...

Hi Kathy,

Thanks for your comments!

I'm not suggesting hiding from our 'mistakes'. Rather to see them differently. Not as a wrong or something to be avoided but as part of the process, whether it is a project, a business, or the journey of our lives. In that I see the mistakes as perfection.

Colette Martin said...

So often there really is no right or wrong -- it's all about perception.