I am not an old soul. I am a klutz and a fairly slow learner. I bumble through life, making almost every mistake possible before finding the right way. People (most notably, my long-suffering parents) tried to explain things to me. But that’s apparently not how I learn. And I don’t think I’m alone.
This used to make me feel like a failure. But it doesn’t anymore.
Do you remember when you were little? If you don’t, observe a child who is preschool age, attempting something new to them. They try, make mistakes, learn, and move on. They don’t beat themselves up, because they seem to know instinctively that making mistakes is how you learn. Do you, as an adult, fault them for that? Of course not! You explain, and demonstrate and encourage, until they get it, or decide it isn’t for them, and they move on to try the next thing.
But something happens around the golden years of junior high (yes, that’s sarcasm). Peer opinion becomes a red-hot pressure cooker. It’s no longer okay to make mistakes. We look around and decide we’re behind—everyone around us has it together, and we never got the manual. We watch adults, observing their competence and confidence.
So you start racing, trying to catch up. You don’t take chances anymore, because you may make a mistake. And everyone will find out that you are clueless. You stick to things you know. You don’t try new things, because you can’t take the chance that you might not be good at them. You may even chose a career, not because you love it, but because you’re competent at it. And how sad is that?
Somewhere around forty, I gave up looking for the manual. I accepted my ‘process’. I’m always going to stumble through life, making mistakes. I relaxed when I realized that my whole life is an experiment.
Remember the scientific method from school? In case you don’t, here are the steps:
- Ask a Question
- Do Background Research
- Construct a Hypothesis
- Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
- Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
Mistakes aren’t failure.
Each mistake I make brings me closer to the correct conclusion. Mistakes are an essential part of learning!
Thomas Edison's teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from his first two jobs for being "non-productive." As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.
Do we think of Edison as an idiot?
I belong to a national writer’s organization. I can’t tell you how many people I met who joined with an ardent fire in their eye. They wrote, they learned, they submitted. They were rejected. Repeat.
I noticed when they began to look around them, seeing others working hard and some succeeding. I remember that look from junior high. They were counting their mistakes, and looking for the handbook that everyone else seemed to have. Many disappeared shortly thereafter.
Once I rediscovered the scientific process, I didn’t quit—even after 15 yrs. And 417 rejections. I now have two publishers, seven contracted novels and last year, I won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award for the Best First Book.
People tell me I’m an inspiration, but I’m not. I’m a bumbling klutz, who refused to take mistakes as a judgement of my ability. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to get it right the first time (or the 500th). All I have to do is learn something from each mistake and continue to improve. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
You have a choice of two ways to look at your mistakes, and no one’s opinion matters but yours.
One will freeze you to immobility, one will move you through any adversity.
And one of those choices would be a big mistake.
So are you ready to take up my challenge of seeing life as an experiment? Do you have any tips for us on how you slay the demons in your head?