As you might have heard me mention a time or two, I am a perfectionist at heart. I like being in control and doing things right the first time around because I absolutely, positively despise redoing things. It’s only natural, then, that I became a writer. Side note: It’s difficult to denote sarcasm in the written word, so let me just point out that that last sentence was brimming with it. Writing is probably the worst profession for someone like me. Getting it right the first time around is nearly impossible—as of the writing of this post, I am at work on the fourth draft of my novel manuscript—and the entire writing process involves oodles of rewriting and revamping and re-editing.
And yet, here I am. Rewriting and revamping and re-editing on an almost daily basis. But rather than grumble with loathing over the constant redoing aspects of writing, I find that I’m actually beginning to enjoy them. Not only that, but I’ve started to let go of some of my perfectionism tendencies. I’m learning that in writing (and other goals), and often even in life in general, mistakes are a necessary part of making progress. It is through trial and error in the novel-writing process—writing and rewriting—that I get to know my characters and it is through trial and error in life—mistakes and missteps—that I get to know my own character.
Here’s what I’ve learned about mistakes:
- Constantly trying to prevent mistakes keeps us stuck. Doing the right thing, saying the right thing, making the right choices. These are all noble efforts for sure. But none of us is perfect and turning ourselves inside out to try to be that way can suck the fun out of life, leading to exhaustion and sometimes even debilitating fear. In the case of my manuscript, I had become so afraid of making mistakes—worrying about what others would think of the story, of me and my abilities—that my progress came to a screeching halt. I knew that if I never took the next step, if I never finished the manuscript, then it—and therefore, I, as a writer—could never be rejected.
- Mistakes create growth. Nobody wants to make mistakes. They’re often embarrassing and inconvenient, and depending on the details, they can make us feel downright shameful. But they can also be enlightening. And when it comes to mistakes in the midst of our goals, we really have two choices: pay attention and learn from them (“Well, that experience didn’t go as planned; what can I take away from it?”) or brush them off and let them stunt our growth (“Well, that was a terrible mistake; I’ll never try that again.”). The caveat to growing from a mistake is that we have to actually take responsibility, because the ability to own up to our part in a mistake and take the time to flesh out the lesson it offers to us is the impetus to great progress.
So what about you? Have you ever let a mistake or even the fear of making mistakes keep you from pursuing your goals?