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Mistakes Help You Win, Not Lose


I recently read a great quote which had no attribution, “I’d rather make mistakes than do nothing, I’d rather mess up than miss out completely.” How true, how true. It seems that people are either on one side of this divide or the other: willing to mess up in order to win or succeed or, at the other extreme, living in fear of erring and surrendering a chance to reach their goals. Sad, huh?

Whether we’re talking missteps or major failures, what’s the secret the person quoted above knows that people who fear messing up don’t? It’s really no secret at all, just an entirely different mindset than believing you must do everything right that causes you to live in terror of doing things wrong. The idea is to accept that missteps are an essential part of life that we can’t escape and not be ashamed when you do something that doesn’t work out because you don’t think of it as shameful.

Let’s stop right there. That’s where perfectionists get stuck: they think that doing something perfectly is better than making mistakes. Therefore, they feel proud when they do something “right” and ashamed when they do something “wrong.” A better way of looking at actions is to feel neutral or okay with erring. You say to yourself, “Oh, well, I did my best” or “Win some, lose some, no big deal.” When you think this way, you don’t need or want to be perfect, so there’s nothing for you to be ashamed of. 

You also don’t worry much about what others think. If you give it your best shot, that’s all that matters. This is a major difference between how risker-takers think and how perfectionists think. They don’t worry about other’s evaluations or judgments of them. They may recognize they fell short, but how they feel about doing so is far more important than what anyone else might think.

One of my clients entered writing contests galore. She enjoyed writing and entered as many contests as she could. “Well, darling, did you win?” her mother always asked her anxiously. My client would laugh at Mom and say, “Mom, how many times do I have to tell you that the point of entering the contests isn’t to win them? It’s to give myself a chance to put my writing out there and see how it stacks up against other writers. It’s a learning experience.” Unfortunately, learning experiences was a concept her mother never understood. How her daughter learned it amazes me to this day.

If you were to free yourself from a fear of failure, how many more risks would you take, how much harder would you work to set and try to reach goals? You get two choices of how to be: to take chances and maybe mess up or to give up and never get anywhere.