Columbus made a mistake and wasted a lot of time doing it. He thought he had reached India, but all he did was discover a whole new world! Alexander Fleming made a mistake: he forgot to throw away a dish of bacteria he was cultivating. When he returned from being away on a trip he discovered that the airborne mold that had settled on the bacteria had killed it. Penicillin was the result! One of our forefathers dug up a brown root and, finding it uneatable made a mistake of tossing it into the fire. The smell it produced got the taste buds going, and the baked potato became staple diet!
We are a cautious species. We don’t like to make mistakes. We would rather do things in the old familiar way even though it becomes boring and mechanical because doing what we know to work gets through our routines- it may be more efficient. Yet repeating things over and over frequently involves a major sacrifice- the magic of exploration.
Exploration, search and discovery are natural human drives. That we feel the need to explore far off places for three weeks of each year is testament to that urge. Just as the manner in which we do it-with packaged tours and pre planned sightseeing –is testament to our fear. We like to choose but we like to limit our choices. One of the reasons seems to be that modern life and the consumer society makes simple exploration impossible-or so it appears-because they have deprived us of the necessity to explore and experiment with the small things of life in our day-to-day world. Never taking risks or being willing to make mistakes in little things, we get out of practice for the big ones. But if we do take risks and are willing to make mistakes, we become explorers of our daily lives and stop craving for big moment when we can take off a safari and perhaps bump into a giraffe.
Become an explorer at home and you will see what you achieve. And start small. Begin by making the kinds of mistakes that are not going to lead to flooded cellar or a garage door that won’t shut. And if routine, at first, feels far too safe to stray from, and then start really small: just reach for a different brand of coffee in the super market than your regular one, and find out it doesn’t actually tear your tongue off. You may even prefer it. This might seem to be the most trivial beginning to breaking ice of your routine. But we do need to start from where we are, and sometimes it’s those small things that limber us up to making exploration and change our very way of life.
Now try taking the wrong way home, or leave the car at the edge of the nearest park and walk to work. Experiment with a new eating-place for lunch- or go for a completely new recipe for your next dinner gathering.
All these may end up being mistakes but not with lasting effects. And besides, a new way of doing something, if it doesn’t actually replace the old, will always add a little something to it and to you. At the very least it will highlight the virtues of the old way. And you will discover the joy of being creative for the sake of it. Now, try making a bigger mistake. Dream something you have always wanted to do but never dared. With these little experiments behind you, you’ll have no difficulty.
Learning doesn’t need to stop in childhood, which is when we normally imagine all mistakes to come to an end. Through experiment and mistake, through trial and error, we learn the mundane lessons and the sacred lessons at the same time; through our entire lives we evolve and mature mainly by exploring the new.
And what is new for someone else may not be new for you. If you always play safe, then play sorry for a change. But if you are a compulsive table hopper, someone who’s always checking if the grass ain’t greener try taking the risk of being bored by doing what you’ve always done before, in a new way perhaps.
The mistakes in themselves don’t really teach us anything, of course. Where they help us is in our own willingness to learn from them, not with embarrassment or denial but with simple curiosity and the courage to tolerate our fear, we come to understand our own limitations as an individual. One wise friend once said that the only difference between the courageous and the timid is not that the timid feel afraid and the courageous don’t, but that the courageous go ahead despite their fear. We all feel fear, of course. Understanding our own limitations, coupled with the courage to experiment each time slightly beyond their boundaries, is the key to successful mistake making.
Once we’ve learned whatever it is we must learn, we will stop making the same mistake over and over. No need to beat ourselves because we should have known better. Beating ourselves is one way we miss – channel energy from the art of learning from our mistakes. Just assume that once you’ve burned your hands on one stove you won’t need to burn them again on another one. You’ll be alert and save your hands for cooking fine foods instead.
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