Oops: Why Mistakes Aren’t All Bad


mistakes10:00 a.m. Accidentally pressed “reply all” to everyone in my company, offering sincere condolences to a co-worker who lost her mom three years ago, which spurred dozens of emails companywide on who died, and whether or not the company should send flowers.


10:50 a.m. Wrote a premature announcement on a website that I would not be blogging there anymore –which got me cut off from access to the blog.


12:00 p.m. Forgot my towel at the public pool. Had to air off using the hand and hair dryers.


5:30 p.m. Showed up at my daughter’s book group on time for once! The mom answers the door and tells me it’s next week.


That is an average beginning to most days. I try not to keep track of all my mistakes, but they are like my kids’ shoes: impossible to miss. Just when I think I have entered a space safe of them (utility closet), there they are.

I wish I could say that twelve years of therapy have helped me to accept my errors, but, honestly, all those hours on the couch haven’t made a dent in the self-flagellation exercises that consume most afternoons after a good blooper.

The other day, after passing my quota of blunders, I reached for Alina Tugend’s book, “Better by Mistake,” to legitimize and justify and make sweet all my slipups. She says in her pages that despite the current cultural pressure to be an overachieving perfectionist, it’s good to mess up. Perfectionism isn’t all that, and sometimes you can learn more by focusing on your mistakes.

There’s this one study I love that found that those high in perfectionism did worse on a writing task than those lower in perfectionism when judged by college professors who were blind to the difference in participants. Now mind you, there is small chance that those college professors just sent their own “someone has died and I’m not telling you who” email to the campus and are trying to rationalize their own oopsies, but I doubt it.

James Joyce wrote, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”

Consider Oprah. She began her career about 40 miles from my home as an anchorwoman for the Baltimore news. She was demoted because she became too emotional when interviewing people. She would cry on camera. So the station gave Oprah her own talk show. To get rid of her.

Author Tara Gold rattles off more examples in her book, “Living Wabi Sabi” (a Japanese concept of imperfection):

Babe Ruth struck out twice as often as he hit home runs. Albert Einstein failed his college entrance exam; teachers described him as “mentally slow, and adrift in foolish dreams.” Agatha Christie couldn’t spell; she had to dictate her mysteries. A young Walt Disney was fired from his first media job for “lack of imagination.” Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team.

Granted, sound bites like those always sound sweeter in retrospect. But whose to say next week, I might be able to say to myself, “You know that towel that I forgot at the pool? Thank God it was left on my bedroom floor to soften a fall of my son as he launched his lacrosse ball at his sister.”

“The mass email? Turns out my co-worker and her family LOVED all the fruit baskets that were sent her way.”

Image by: www.semsamurai.com

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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