I don’t hold the philosophy that every single problem is an opportunity just waiting to transform your life radically for the better if only you will let it. This is rubbish. Problems are exactly that: things we would rather not have, since they make a difficult life even more difficult. You need to have a certain masochistic streak to welcome them with open arms. Problems, and mistakes in general, are a fact of life and cannot be ignored, although it is sensible to try to keep them to a minimum. It is essential to remember certain facts about mistakes:
• We all make them, so we need to learn to accept them as a fact of life. Making a genuine mistake does not make you any less of a person.
• If anyone gives you an unnecessarily stressful time about making a mistake, remember they will have made just as many mistakes as you, if not more. The question ‘May I congratulate you on never having made a mistake in your life?’ is a useful answer here.
• Forgive yourself. It is bad enough having to tell your family you forgot to buy the airline tickets when you are at the air port, so don’t hate yourself for being human. Accept the criticism that will come your way and learn from it, although in a case such as this it is unlikely you would ever be allowed not to!
• Don’t allow mistakes to prevent you from taking future decisions. You forgot the airline tickets this time but this doesn’t mean you will never be able to travel abroad in the future. This would imply that all you will ever be able to do is stick to what you know and never try anything new: safe, predictable and dreadfully dull. Life is too short for this.
• Don’t try to avoid mistakes by not making decisions. In any boardroom there will be people who have perfected this technique so well they spend all their lives sitting on the fence. Their fear of getting something, anything, wrong is so great they are transfixed, like rabbits in car headlights, to the point of freezing up. They delay endlessly, hoping to guarantee the right decision, and so the cycle continues.
While there is no such thing as a successful person who has not failed or made mistakes, there are successful people who made mistakes and changed their lives or performance in response to them, and so got it right the next time. They viewed mistakes as warnings rather than signs of hopeless inadequacy. Trying never to disappoint people by avoiding mistakes stifles your life in every area.
Never making a mistake means never living life to the full. More useful lessons are learned from mistakes than from success. Children learn to walk because they get up when they fall, not because they stay down. Repeat each morning that to risk failure is to court success.