The Mistake Manifesto: Why Mistakes Shouldn’t Be Avoided

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”

-Oscar Wilde

Life is short. Get as much experience as you can by making more mistakes. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn about yourself and the world around you; the wiser and more experienced you become.

I write and think about mistakes a lot.

It’s becoming redundant.

Of course, just because I do this does not mean I am great at regularly making mistakes… like I should be. I struggle with Resistance just like everyone else. I want to take the safe, stress-free route over the difficult one. I seek easy over hard.

To some this might not like seem like a big deal, but for me, it’s a real problem. You see, my life philosophy is based on a few beliefs I hold. One of these beliefs is based on the duality of everything in the universe—night and day, yin and yang, easy and hard, black and white, etc. I have learned (the hard way) that the best times don’t last just like the worst ones… and… that both are absolutely necessary for living a balanced, grateful life. (Check out some of my archives to find more writings on this topic.) In short, I want to make as many mistakes as possible because that means I am making progress. When I am not making mistakes, in my eyes, I feel like I’m not making enough progress. I feel like I’m being “safe” and “comfortable.” I don’t like it.

Mistakes

Making mistakes is hard because we have been conditioned to avoid mistakes our entire lives—school, teachers, parents, guidance counselors, peers, coaches, etc. Mistakes bring us pain and embarrassment while also bringing us learning and experience—which is why they are so valuable. Pain and embarrassment is fleeting and only as bad as you deem it so. They are your opinion, and you can change that opinion. Fundamentally, this is why we should seek to learn in the face of pain and embarrassment. Plus, wisdom itself is reward, and easily paid for by whatever pain and embarrassment it takes. So, when you make mistakes, you get a chance to learn and gain life experience while also getting exercise in controlling your opinions of what pain and embarrassment actually is (which is usually just your worry over what other people will think).

Of course, it’s not easy to force ourselves to seek out mistakes. The thing is, if we want to become the best we can be, we must. Mistakes are our path to improvement.

As I said before, easy is not useful. Easy is not a teacher, difficult is. Think about your past and you will see that the times you learned the most, that were the most beneficial to you as far as becoming a better, wiser person, were probably the times you hated the most. And such is a truism of life.

What’s difficult is where we have our greatest opportunities for mistakes, and thus, for learning. The harder and more painful something is, the more learning, wisdom, knowledge, and life practice we gain from it. (Of course, only if we are able to separate ourselves from the Ego to accept the lessons provided.)

This truism represents the greatest opportunity for attaining health, wealth and happiness for those that embrace it.

Unfortunately, most people try to fight what’s hard. Most people do everything they can to avoid embarrassment and making a mistake. They are professionals at seeking the path of least resistance. And when they do make mistakes, they do their best to forget them as quickly as possible because it hurts to think that they may have made a mistake.

These same people will avoid thinking of their past instead of confronting it. They try to escape what’s hard by seeking externals like pleasure and the illusion of the future. Of course, none of this works for very long. Invariably, when it all starts to unravel the way it always does, they end up feeling hopeless and lost, not knowing why they feel the way they feel or what they should do about it. That’s a shame.

What’s Easy Has No Value

Answer these questions:

  • Do you have an intense, burning desire to stay the same?
  • Do you want to avoid any and all improvement?
  • Do you want to stick to things that are comfortable for as long as possible?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, here’s your plan: seek easy and comfortable. For those of you that want to ‘fit in,’ ‘be average’ and not ‘rock the boat,’ then by all means, make it your job to seek only what’s easy and comfortable.

Easy and comfortable is how a golfer will shoot the same score his entire life. Easy and comfortable is how people stay in loveless, sexless marriages. Easy and comfortable is why people work jobs they hate for the large part of their lives. Easy and comfortable is why people become fat, sick and complacent. Easy and comfortable are killers, literally: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.

In everything you do, seeking easy and comfortable is your path to sameness and mediocrity and, eventually, regression. The thing about anything that is easy and comfortable is it begets more things that are easy and comfortable. As you become more conditioned to do what’s easy and comfortable, you start seeking what’s easier and more comfortable. This goes on ad infinitum. Eventually, you atrophy and die.

Sad, prevalent and totally preventable.

Easy and comfortable also has a knack of insidiously seeping into other parts of your life. Start seeking easy and comfortable in one thing, and before you know it, you are seeking it in many things, and then, all things. Do this long enough and you become a professional at being average and mediocre. This will maintain your status quo for a period of time before you start regressing. When you start regression, it’s all a slow, downward spiral. Before you know it, your mind and body have weakened and getting out of the hole might seem impossible. You find yourself average at things you were once good at. You try less on things you used to try hard on. You enjoy things less that you used to enjoy more. And on and on the steady decline begets more steady decline. Bit by bit, your entire life withers away. Looks a lot like aging, doesn’t it?

Exactly!

In fact, I have this theory that most people age at about the same rate as their peers. For example, if you hang around people that start gaining weight and becoming more and more sedentary in their old age, you too will start gaining weight and become less and less active because you will subconsciously “accept” that you are “getting old” the way your peers are, and as a result, you will mirror their habits which will result in you looking, feeling and living about the same as those around you. You will gray at about the same rate as your peer group because your lifestyles will be so similar. Your peers will talk about things they used to be able to do but now can’t, and you will nod your head in agreement. Then you’ll start compiling about things you used to be able to do. On and on this rubbing off it will go, infecting each other.

This is why, I think, that people age at about the same rate as their age group of the culture they live in. Go to the island of Okinawa, off the coast of Japan, and you’ll find plenty of active and self-sufficient individuals living into their 90s and beyond because you’ll find that many of their peers are doing the same thing. (A reminder to the importance of carefully choosing your peer group!)

I have digressed.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live my life out in slow decay. As Seneca so eloquently put it, “Life’s like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.” I’d rather my life be an epic adventure filled with plenty of ups, downs and in-betweens than it be a “safe” and “secure” life of settling for a secure job, a comfortable relationship and a typical routine. No thanks.

I want to constantly grow and evolve and become the best I can be. And this is why mistakes is my way. To improve, I must put myself in uncomfortable situations and do my best to learn from them. The more I do this, the better I’ll get. Of course, as I said before, knowing this doesn’t mean the doing is easy.

I write and think about mistakes on a daily basis because I want to condition myself to take more risks. The more I think and write about mistakes, the more I’m subconsciously drawn to making them. Then, when the opportunity for grand and glorious mistakes presents itself—which might only happen once or twice in a lifetime—I will be more likely to act.

Do you think of your mistakes as an opportunity? If you are like most people, you don’t. If you are like most people, you try to avoid mistakes like the plague. This is why you are like most people.

It’s not often we get to make great mistakes. When we miss these rare opportunities, we miss more than we realize. Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Alexander McQueen said, “You can only go forward by making mistakes.” I could go on and on quoting others on the merits of failure in the hopes of showing you how important mistakes are, but I’m not going to. If you don’t get why mistakes are important by now, you probably never will.

People making mistakes

Many of the world’s greatest companies were started by individuals that were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t. Their ideas may have been illegal, impossible, improbable, or sometimes, all three. Yet they did it anyway. They grasped their opportunity to make grand and glorious mistakes, and by acting on this opportunity, they achieved greatness. Their grand mistakes forced them to learn, grow and adapt, and as a result, they were able to capture an opportunity where others were too afraid to attempt.

A quick example: Apple computer has been near bankrupt multiple times in its history. It’s founder, Steve Jobs, was fired then rehired—which Jobs credits as one of the greatest things that ever happened to him. Now Apple is the biggest company in world. Had the company—and it’s founder—not made the mistakes it did, it probably would’t have been able to achieve what it did. It probably would have skated by as just another computer company.

Greatness is a path littered with mistakes. Greatness views mistakes as feedback that that way is not the way. Greatness embraces mistakes because it views it scientifically, not emotionally.

Are you able to separate your ego from your mistakes so you can achieve greatness?

Had Bill Gates played it safe and stayed at Harvard, maybe someone else would have beat him to building the Microsoft operating system. Had Elon Musk given up after either of the first three failed SpaceX rockets—which put him and the company at the brink of bankruptcy—he would not have launched the fourth rocket successfully and won the company a 2.6 billion dollar NASA contract, which saved himself, and the company, from financial ruin.

That’s the thing about mistakes: your greatest opportunity for mistakes provide your greatest opportunity for achievement. They go hand-in-hand. Being great at anything can be summed up—as Mr. Wilde suggests above—in how many failures one has achieved.

Think back on your life: How many times have you failed? How did these failures shape you into the person you are today? The answer, even if you don’t realize it, is a lot. Every failure you have ever experienced was an opportunity for you to become better and more experienced.

Mistakes are an opportunity we all must embrace. Unfortunately, most people let their mistakes bring them blame, regret and shame, instead of learning and wisdom. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest perceptual failures of our generation (and one you should change right now).

Another thing that makes failure so awesome is this: To truly appreciate success, you must truly appreciate failure. If you have never felt the sting of failure, how are you able to appreciate success, the opposite of failure? You can’t. Like I’ve already said, they are connected by a universal duality that is inherent in all parts of the universe.

So, when you complaining about your lack of success, your mistakes, someone else’s success, or any of the many self-destructive thoughts that try to sabotage us all, you must remind yourself of the rules of the game and this: your current lack of success is the path that every successful person in the history of man has had to take to become successful… and you are no different. And if you were to were to push a button to grant yourself all the success in the world, you would be a fool. You would be foolish to push that button because your success would be meaningless because it would not have been achieved the way success is supposed to be achieved, and thus, you wouldn’t appreciate it (and it wouldn’t be long until you were unhappy and complaining again the way you were complaining before you had any success).

Hard is fundamental to success. If you have easy, you don’t have success, you just have easy, and at the core of hard is making mistakes. Do some simple math and you see that mistakes to success. Hard, mistakes and success are interwoven and it’s time you accept them as such.

Shame

Most people feel shame from their mistakes. It’s a natural, biological response that was passed down from our ancestors due to the fact that failing in front of a tribe would have endangered our hierarchy in our tribe, and thus, our chances of reproductive success. We also lived in an environment that was inherently dangerous where a simple mistake could result in life-threading injury or death. Back then, it was much more dangerous to make mistakes.

Of course, times have changed. We have the chance to make massive mistakes while coming out the other end alive, healthy and better prepared for the next go-round. And that’s exactly what I suggest you do. Nowadays, success is earned by those most willing to make glorious mistakes. In fact, your life success can be exactly correlated to the amount of mistakes you have made and will make in your lifetime—and learn from. The more mistakes you make and learn from, the better you are. Period. It’s a simple as that. And this concept applies to all walks of achievement from love, monetary success, power, fame, everything. The greatest performers in the world are that way because they are constantly testing the limits of their bodies and discipline.

If you desire to be great, you have to adopt this mistake mindset. You have to start reframing your view of mistakes and failure. Instead of seeing mistakes and failures as things to avoid, seek them out. Instead of letting them bring you shame, have them bring you pride; pride in the fact that you were bold and took action when others wouldn’t.

It’s time to seek hard and shun easy. It’s time to seek the path of most resistance.

When you reframe how you think of hard, easy, mistakes, and success, you get the keys to the floodgates of growth and learning. On the flip side, if you carry around shame and aversion to failure throughout your life, you’ll never reach your true potential.

Mistakes are opportunity; seek them out. Reflect on your past mistakes and bleed them dry of usefulness.

I’m not going to pretend that any of this is easy. It’s not. Nor should it be because you would’t learn anything if it was (seeing a theme yet?). If you aspire to be better, you must become a professional at being bold and taking risks.

I’m not saying that you should become a careless and clumsy idiot that makes mistakes out of everything. No, that would just be you being an idiot. What I am saying is, you must do the best you can while constantly pushing yourself to the upper limits of your ability, which, in turn, will result in unavoidable mistakes. At the end of the day, you are seeking mistakes because you are seeking progress and progress does not come without error.

To become great and live great: Make grand and glorious mistakes by shunning easy and comfortable and by seeking out the dangerous, twisted and scary path of difficulty.

Yours in Life,

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