“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” ~ Miles Davis
Imagine setting off on a long hike in the mountains. Your backpack is full of everything you could ever need to survive any challenge that you encounter on the journey. However, you don’t have a map. You don’t have a compass. And you hate to admit it, but you don’t have a very good sense of direction.
Imagine what could happen on a hike with no tools to help you to navigate your way. Imagine what could happen if you make a decision that causes you to accidentally detour off the trail. Imagine what could happen if you wander so far and get so lost that you never reach your destination.
At some point, you might recall someone in your life encouraging you to make the “right” decision. And they probably didn’t just “encourage” you—they issued a stern warning about what could possibly happen if you made the “wrong” decision. Filled with fear, you may have become so anxious about making the “right” decision and so scared of making the “wrong” decision that the inevitable happened: Your fear of making a mistake caused you to avoid making any decisions…at all.
So, here’s the million-dollar question: How do we know if we’re making the right decision? How do we know—for sure—that the decision we make is the best choice for us? How do we know whether our decision will keep us on the trail…or, detour us ever further away from our destination?
Fact: Sometimes, we don’t know.
Sometimes, we simply don’t have enough information to justify our decision. Sometimes, we don’t have enough clarity to know whether a decision is right or wrong…or, good or bad. And sometimes, the only way to know what is “right” for us is to make a decision that is “wrong” for us.
No map? No compass? No problem. Here’s why…
Making a “wrong” decision may cause us to “wander”. It may cause us to “detour”. And it may cause us to get lost (gasp!). But wandering off the beaten path can teach us how to cope. It can teach us how to rebound from adversity. It can teach us how to adapt to challenge. And we can use the knowledge that we gain to inform our next decision. Through our experiences “off the trail”, we become braver…our world becomes bigger…and, in many ways, our life becomes better, all because of a “wrong” decision.
Let’s face it—mistakes have a horrible reputation. Instead of appreciating the infinite number of positives that can come from making a mistake, the word “mistake” has such a negative connotation. You can almost feel the fear when the word “mistake” is used in a sentence. Take a look:
- “Whatever you do, don’t make a mistake!”
- “You cannot afford to make a mistake! Is that understood?”
- “There’s no room for mistakes. Got it?”
Powerful statements, right? Hmmmm…no, these statements are actually quite disempowering—lies that we tell ourselves to scare ourselves into not making a mistake. But there’s a hidden truth in our (very human) tendency to “err”: Mistakes are often what it takes to succeed.
That’s right—making mistakes isn’t the “opposite” of success. It’s part of success.
No doubt, the path to success is rarely “straight”—it contains twists and turns, whirls and swirls, and zigs and zags that challenge your ability to have all of the answers, all the time. But no matter where your journey takes you, you’re a better person for not having all the answers. You’re a better person for being susceptible to error. And you’re a better person for making a “wrong” decision—especially when you view mistakes a source of empowerment, a force of positive change, and a golden opportunity to become the best version of YOU.
So, have no fear—if you don’t know if a decision is the “right” one, welcome to the club! Right or wrong, good or bad, for better or for worse—take the risk and make a decision.
Ironically, mistakes are often the worst things to avoid because they wind up being the best things that could ever happen to us. When we view a mistake as an opportunity to lose nothing and gain everything, something amazing happens: We stop trying to survive a “wrong” decision….because we stop seeing any decision as “wrong”.
Instead, we take the fall. We stand tall. We learn from it all. And we repeat…
About the Author: Joshua GARRIN is one of Your Monthly Mentors. He holds a Ph.D. in health psychology, an M.S. in cognitive psychology, and a B.S. in general psychology and journalism. He currently resides in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Following the completion of his doctorate in 2014, Joshua was the recipient of Walden University’s Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for Outstanding Dissertation Research for his inquiry on health beliefs, outcome expectancies, and stress appraisal in college seniors. Read More…
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