Mistakes: Signposts on the road of life
I need to pull back the curtain and share my imperfect, vulnerable underbelly. I recently goofed on a small promotional marketing piece intended for a couple of dozen people. By accident, I inadvertently sent it to my entire Gmail contacts list. Yes, I spammed a few thousand people. Nobody died as a result of my mistake. But I’m here to tell you, people were not happy about it. I reached out to several individuals to personally apologize for the mistake, and they were all very understanding. But I was still very embarrassed at the time.
Here’s what I know for sure: Mistakes are signposts on the road of life. Like a snapshot along the journey, they illuminate where we are and what we’re doing. If we’re out there, trying new things, taking risks, living life beyond the edge of our comfort zone, from time to time we’re making mistakes. If we’re smart, we’re learning from them, turning each heroic blunder into morsels of wisdom we can refer to further on down the road.
Because we’re human, the part of our brain that tries to keep us safe is usually mortified when we screw up. Our amygdala is responsible for sensing danger, constantly trying to assess if we’re about to be eaten or kicked out of the tribe. The contemporary risk of being attacked by a saber-toothed tiger is minimum, so being publicly humiliated for our mistakes is probably the closest thing there is to being eaten or excluded. The fear of failure and rejection is often enough to keep us safely on the sidelines — where life stagnates in tepid puddles of mediocrity.
Innovation, creativity and human connection happen out in the world, where things are unpredictable and often dangerous. If we want to contribute something new or share some element of creative expression, we have to be willing to risk the threat of epic failure and flat out rejection. Don’t get me wrong, it’s terrifying, I know. But that’s where life and love happens — out there where we occasionally bump into each other. The possibility of screwing up should not paralyze us from trying new things, just as the threat of criticism should not thwart our eager participation in the extraordinary life we seek.
Think about it this way: In the course of a lifetime, how many individuals have hurt us deeply — fundamentally changing our sense of ourselves? One? Two? Five? 10? 20? On the other hand, how many are utterly indifferent — those who simply don’t care one way or another? Now consider how many people have been genuinely helpful, enthusiastically caring, kind and supportive. Hundreds, perhaps thousands in the course of a lifetime. Will we honestly allow our reptilian brain to hijack our potential for success because of the careless remarks from a handful of callous individuals? When we consider the math, it seems crazy.
Looking at the topography of our lives, we should anticipate making mistakes — sometimes remarkable, sometimes not. We should expect criticism from those who choose to judge us from a distance. A few will call us out hoping to harm and shame us into quiet submission. Most will seek to improve our understanding with our best interest at heart. These are golden opportunities to learn with humility, grow with sincerity and recommit to the course before us with a sense of humor and renewed integrity.
Those who step out into the world with authenticity deserve praise for their courage. Everyone’s path is different. We are all uniquely challenged. No one is infallible. Critics are often quick to judge from the safety of the stands. And those who love us usually have supportive advice worthy of our thoughtful consideration. In the course of my life, my mistakes have been abundant and remarkable. My greatest teachers have been candid in their words of wisdom. May our mistakes support a renewed conviction in our potential to evolve.
Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of http://www.MyIntentionalSolutions.com, delivering organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students and life transitions. For more information, call 970-366-2532, email Evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com or become a friend at http://www.facebook.com/EvanZislis.
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This will be my 500th column — my final column in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.