For most of my life, I have been afraid of making mistakes. Even the “MBTI Prayers” mentions my type as being perfectionistic:
INFJ: Lord, please help me not to be so perfectionistic! (Did I spell that correctly?)
Yes, I am a good speller, and I am also a fear-based Enneagram type, a Five, somewhat evolved but still a Five.
Fear! Fear! Fear! Boo!
I can poke fun at myself now, but used to, I couldn’t. I was a good child, didn’t make waves, did well in school, was serious and well-behaved, was friendly and funny with my peers — but was isolated, not close to anyone emotionally. I had a lot of fears and doubts and no one to talk to. My fears and doubts kept me from talking to anyone! I feared they wouldn’t understand me and would ridicule me, and I doubted anyone could do or say anything helpful to me. So I didn’t reach out very far. Adolescence was particularly lonely. I was afraid of making mistakes.
My fear of making mistakes meant being tense before I even started something!
Wow. When I think about that now, I can see how I made myself miserable. I robbed myself of the joy of failing, trying again, and doing better. I didn’t understand the learning curve.
By the way, here’s a great video about the learning curve. Watch this baby learn about her body and what she can do, and notice how complex rolling over is, and how she learns to do it:
I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but I recently realized some Very Important truths in life that changed my mind about making mistakes:
- Mistakes are inevitable. Every single person is different from me in values, history, habits, expectations, thought processes, communication styles, emotional make-up, priorities, and so much more. I can’t read minds. Also, I filter things out that I should have paid attention to, had I only known or really understood. I forget, get distracted, am preoccupied, and so on. As the politicians say, mistakes are made.
- You grow more from making mistakes than you do from perfection. When you do something or see something done perfectly, you and others can appreciate the beauty, elegance, and righteousness of it. Perfection lets us appreciate that someone has reached an ideal. You can reflect on what made it perfect, respect the luck or skill that went into it, and then you store that memory and move on to what’s next.
When you make a mistake, well, there are all kinds of opportunities to develop yourself and grow as a human being:
- You get to reflect on your behavior and remember what you were thinking/feeling and (with hindsight) what you were distorting/deleting/generalizing about that led to your mistake. So you know more about your subjective experience and your behavior, and you understand yourself better.
- By understanding yourself better, you have an opportunity to develop compassion for yourself. If you can understand how making the mistake really happened, moment by moment, you can have mercy on yourself, be tender toward yourself for your limitations, forgive yourself.
- If you can forgive yourself, you can extend that understanding and mercy to other humans who make mistakes (and of course to all sentient beings). Next time you realize you’ve made a mistake, after you’ve held yourself accountable and developed compassion for yourself, think of someone whom you hold a grudge against or judgment about because they made a mistake with you or someone you care about. You can now understand that they had limitations and were doing the best they could at the time. Just like you. You can extend your tenderness and compassion to them. We all live in the human condition.
- You have an opportunity to understand how you could have done it better. With hindsight, what could you have done differently that could have resulted in a better outcome? Of course, there’s no way of really knowing what the actual different outcome might be because there are always innumerable variables beyond our control, but you can at least imagine moving in a different and healthier direction, and it can still be soothing to your heart and mind to retroactively right your wrong in your imagination.
- You now hold the key to actually doing it better next time. Imagine a similar situation in the future, and see yourself not making that mistake.
- Depending on the severity of the mistake and the person you made it with, you may have an opportunity to make amends and reconnect in a healthier way. You may want to talk about what happened, listen, apologize, reset boundaries, and/or make a peace offering. Who knows? They may have something important to tell you. You invite them to understand you better and perhaps to understand themselves (or what they project) better through seeing how you misperceived them. And mostly, you get to spend time valuing each other’s humanity, and that’s a simply awesome way to spend time with people.
There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to make mistakes, because there’s pain involved. I don’t want to cause anyone pain or suffering. But I can’t let that paralyze me. Intent counts, and it’s more complex than that. This is where the Serenity Prayer comes in:
Mistakes are perhaps the best education available for the heart and the mind when it comes to gaining skill with life. They teach you how to be heart-full and mind-full.
With the attitude that mistakes are inevitable and there for me to learn from, and the recognition that I have learned from them and will continue learning from them, life feels more playful, free, promising, and joyful. I’m moving in the direction of Big Mind and Big Heart. And how much better can it get than that?