Mindsteps: Mistakes happen

Mistakes Happen - From Mindsteps Newsletter

Every new school year, it starts. The new plans for the year, the resolutions, the excited feeling in the pit of my stomach. The beginning of school offers the ultimate do-over, the perpetual clean slate. I know the new year officially begins January 1, but for me, the new year begins the first day of school.

If you are like me at all, you too have made a few new school year resolutions. This year I will do things differently. This year will be better than last year.

Each year I start off determined to get it right this time. Each year, I start off determined not to make the same mistakes.

And most years, I don’t make the same mistakes – I make different ones. In spite of my best efforts, I never get through the year mistake free.

Mistakes happen.

I spent much of my career trying to avoid mistakes. I planned meticulously, prepared exhaustively, and delivered with careful attention to detail. And if, in spite of my best efforts, I did make a mistake, I would beat myself up relentlessly and vow to never make that mistake again.

It’s funny. We encourage our students to take risks, to try new things. We tell them that it’s okay if they make mistakes because mistakes are a part of the learning process. But, do we practice what we preach? Do we allow ourselves to take risks, to try new things, and yes, to even make a mistake or two along the way?

Not often. We treat mistakes like failures and, rather than learn from them, we do our best to mitigate their consequences. This fear of making a mistake limits our creativity. It stifles our ability to innovate. We become so focused on not messing up that we miss the chance to try something different or approach our jobs and our challenges in a new and better way.

Many of you have started new jobs, new positions, or face new challenges this school year and you are understandably nervous. You want to do a good job. You want to be successful. What you don’t want to do is fail. You don’t want to make a mistake.

But mistakes are an integral part of the messiness of learning. If you are not making mistakes, if you are not failing sometimes, then you aren’t really learning.

So, although there are many folks out there (your boss, your parents, even your colleagues) who will send you the message that mistakes are something bad, something to be avoided at all costs, they’re wrong.

It’s not a matter of if you will make a mistake but when you will make a mistake. Mistakes happen to the best of us despite our most persistent efforts to the contrary.

Although you cannot control whether you make a mistake or not, you can control your reaction to the mistake. Sure, you can choose to berate yourself for the slip up and be ashamed by your error. Or, you can choose to see each blunder as a chance to get better. You can choose to treat your mistakes in the same way that you want your students to treat theirs – as evidence that they took a risk and as an opportunity to grow.

So, it’s okay. Go ahead. Make a mistake or two this year.

You just might learn something.