The Cost of Not Making Mistakes
I was teaching a class recently on how to use a crosscut saw to cut trees that have fallen over. I do this as part of my involvement with volunteer trail maintenance on public lands.
During the class one of the participants nicked their knee with the saw and got a significant cut. While I’m aware that my power to have prevented that is limited, I’m also aware that some different choices about how I offered instruction could have changed things. I regard that as a mistake that I made, that I can recognize, and that I can correct in the future. But meanwhile someone got hurt.
A mistake is an action taken (or not taken) that results in our own or someone else’s time, energy, money or health being wasted. We can recognize it as a mistake because a different action (that we might be able to identify after the fact) would have likely led to a preferable outcome.
There was a cost to my mistake, and that cost is uncomfortable. Sometimes it can be hard to bear the cost of a mistake.
Sometimes all one can see is the cost of their mistakes. But there is another cost that can help put this in perspective.
Mistakes happen when we are exploring the outer limits of what we’re capable of. If we’re in new and unfamiliar territory, we’re going to take some wrong turns before we find our way.
Anytime we’re learning something new we make mistakes. If I’m learning a new language it’s inevitable that I’ll conjugate some verbs incorrectly as I attempt to speak. If I’m learning how to cook I will use too much oregano or over salt a dish from time to time.
In this case, as I learn how to transfer the skill of handling a cross-cut saw and cutting trees with it to other people I’ll end up making some less than ideal choices about how to do that. But I will get better at it with experience.
What’s the cost of not showing up, and putting oneself in a position to make mistakes?
This is the other cost, the one that is often less visible to us.
I believe the absence of our explorations and our journeys of discovery will be felt by the world, as well as by our own souls.
If we don’t explore the edge of what is possible for us, seek out enlivening challenges, and attempt to bring our own unique self into connection and co-creation with the world, then the world feels the loss…and so do we.
If I didn’t engage with the challenge of teaching saw classes, then the only instructors would be white males, reinforcing an old dynamic whose time is ending. And if I didn’t show up the material would be delivered differently, without the ways that I help create a culture where learning is okay, and without my particular way of illustrating log dynamics or highlighting the importance of communication.
I’m learning, uncomfortable as it sometimes is, that my mistakes are a much less significant cost overall, than if I didn’t try.
I’m hoping to encourage you and anyone reading this to have a gentleness and acceptance of the process of making mistakes, because it is the process of learning and growing.
If we don’t show up in the world with our own light and beauty, but instead opt for the known and comfortable, we stand a good chance of becoming part of the soul-crushing juggernaut of mediocrity.
Bringing our unique beauty into the world is not only in service to our own spirit, it is in service to everyone and everything around us.