I’m fond of saying, “Life is messy.” It’s true, as far as I can tell, and those words come in handy when someone has just blown it. It’s a way of saying “I understand.” It can be hard to genuinely say, “Oh no! I just messed up,” so maybe acknowledging that life is just a messy business would help us own our mistakes.
Brian Andreas writes lovely, short dialogues with quirky characters, and one of my favorites is this one:
What are you good at?
I said & she said,
Mainly life. I work best
with stuff that has
a high tolerance for mistakes.
Life does have a high tolerance for mistakes… the earth doesn’t open up and swallow those who say, “Oops, you’re right, I made a mistake.” Most of the folks I know are pretty gracious when I’m apologizing. The truth is, I’m the one who has a low tolerance for mistakes- mostly my own.
The crazy thing is that to learn anything new, by definition I am doing something I can’t do very well. And when my focus is on being good as soon as possible, there is added pressure, which of course increases my mistake-making.
What if we agree that life is messy, and it’s understood that we’ll all be messing up. Here is how we can go about it:
1. Give yourself permission to be real. Human beings forget appointments, overlook details and blurt out embarrassing remarks. Rather than avoiding or glossing over the consequences, just own your behavior in an appropriate way.
2. When you are learning something new afford yourself a little grace. Think in terms of getting better rather than being good. Don’t compare yourself to other people; focus on your progress not perfection.
3. Sometimes in a messy situation the only way to come up with an answer is to take some creative leaps in the dark and be informed by the results. The trick is to reflect on the particular details so that you move on to new mistakes rather than repeating the same ones.
I suspect that as we are more tolerant of our own mistake-making, giving space for experience to develop, that we’ll be more patient with each other. What is the best lesson you have learned from a mistake?