This time last year, I posted Neil Gaiman’s well-known quote about mistakes, and it’s something that still resonates so deeply with me.
If you haven’t heard his quote, here’s the background: On December 31, 2011, Gaiman (one of my favourite writers) posted this thought-provoking New Year’s Wish in his online journal:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
Gaiman’s post shocked some people, angered and confused others. Many folks — me, for one — loved it!
Because many of life’s most wondrous inventions and changes come from happy accidents and “mistakes”.
Because much of one’s greatest personal growth comes from so-called mistakes.
And because some mistakes are just blessings in disguise (and I know there is a Zen koan about this!!).
Yet some folks are afraid of failing, of being judged, of being different, of not being perfect and, as a result, they may take no risks. They may stay in a safe, and ultimately unsatisfying, little bubble.
But often the fear of all that is more profound than the actual “mistake”, the actual “failure”.
And that’s okay. I will not judge. I will hold space for each of us to step into our glorious possibilities.
I say, bring it on! I’ll give this crazy life 100% and if I stumble and fall, I’ll get up and try it again and again until I get it right. Or not! But I’ll try! I accept and embrace my divine imperfection. That’s what makes me human. That’s what gives my life meaning.
Update, January 4, 2018
The original post above resonated with many people, and I received several private messages and emails with thoughts and comments that folks hesitated to post publicly. And that’s okay too!
One common thread was this: “But is it okay to keep making the same mistakes?” or “Surely you mean just make new ones, and not repeat old ones?”
My thoughts? Trying new things unsuccessfully is slightly different from making true mistakes repeatedly (e.g. choices that consistently lead to negative outcomes), although some of the underlying factors might be consistent in both.
There is also wisdom to be gained from repeating our mistakes.
In some cases, folks are not even aware that they are repeating old mistakes, for any number of reasons: they may be operating from a self-limiting belief that they are worthless, undeserving of happiness or are “screw-ups”, leading them to consistent negative outcomes… subconsciously, they may not really want the outcome that their conscious mind is committing too… they may not have the internal strength or resources to realize that there are other choices to be made… or, they may not be sufficiently self-aware to recognize the repetitive behaviours.
Eventually, the voice of our Wise Inner Self will break through into our conscious mind, with the old or familiar “Oops, I did it again!”
There can be a deep and negative judgment when we witness others (or our Self) make the same mistakes over and over again. But judgment isn’t productive.
Instead, choose to hold space for your Self and others to make different choices, to learn and grow, to move past the failure and ask “okay, now what action can I take that will result in a different outcome?”
Each time we inadvertently or unconsciously make the same mistake, awareness of that choice serves to illuminate our patterns… and an awareness of our self-limiting thoughts can open us up to new possibilities and enable us to try new ways or paths that will be more successful, productive and rewarding.
This examination of our self-limiting beliefs, and healing them, is also an element of Shadow Work. I have written several posts exploring this further, which may support your awareness of your own self-limiting beliefs or shadows: