Harnessing The Value of Your Mistakes
the value of making mistakes

The value of making mistakes

When I first tried scuba diving, many years ago, my instructor told me something that I’ve always remembered. He said that there were three types of people; those who can learn from the mistakes of others, those who have to learn through their own mistakes and those who never learn.

For many years I’ve attributed higher wisdom to those in the top category; those who learn from other people’s mistakes and slightly lamented my tendency to take the middle avenue but now I’m thinking differently.

Firstly, can you truly experience success without having experienced failure? Can you triumph without passing through the no man’s land of uncertainty? What’s the light joviality of a European summer without the dark days of winter?

Secondly, isn’t there a limit to your growth when you rely on observing the mistakes of others? There’s the old saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. No, I accept my ‘learn from mistakes’ status and this year I’m going to aim for more first time mistakes.

Freelancing is a solitary business. We don’t have a three-person procurement team signing off all of our purchases or have a boss to encourage or push us on to achieve higher goals. Am I complaining? Nah, to be perfectly honest I never had much of that in the corporate world anyway and I’m working hard to give myself permission. My point here is that it feels tough sometimes to veer into the danger field of attempting something new, or tough when unaccompanied and even the brave among us could be forgiven from shying away from risk-taking situations.

While there is plenty of goal setting and success measurement advice out there and even a lot of it urging us to be courageous in all that we do, what about building in a robust mistake measurement system?

This would ensure that I was being adventurous enough in my ventures that mistakes were occurring and also allow me to learn properly from them. Sure I learn from the big ones like, never work with a narcissist or don’t pay for advice from someone who isn’t achieving what you’re aiming for but there are hundreds of other little mistakes that I know I could learn and save resources from. I used to say that I’d try anything twice but now I’m feeling time pressed I’m going to have to revise that that to once.

For example, there is a certain kind of networking group here in the UK that is great for trade-related businesses but not great for creatives. The first time I went I knew it wasn’t for me. The format and obligatory referrals and enforced attendance don’t suit me. Don’t get me wrong I’m up for goading and discipline but this wasn’t my bag. Then someone else invited me. They said that it was a different group and that I’d definitely benefit from attending this one. Fair enough I thought, I’ll go along and 2 seconds into the meeting and I knew I’d wasted my time and breakfast money in being there.

This is the perfect kind of mistake for a register. It means I won’t be returning to the group.

So how does this work? I’m proposing a register with the following information recorded:

1. Mistake

2. Greater Goal

3. Cost

4. Lesson Learned

5. Date

Goal setting wisdom tells us that we are more likely to achieve what we want to achieve if we write it down. Perhaps this can work in the reverse; meaning that we are less likely to make the same mistake twice if we write it down.

In the corporate world people are often punished for making mistakes but we freelancers and creators need to be free enough to make them and to grow.

I’ll keep you posted about this system of working with, rather than shying away from mistakes.


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