Single Most Important Piece of Advice for Every Graduate (And The Rest Of Us)
None of us escape this inevitability in life. But not all of us do this with it.
Would the perfect person among us please raise their hand.
Yes, exactly, none of us get through life without making multiple blunders. In fact the greater your passion for anything, the more creative and innovative you are, the more mistakes you will make. And some of them are absolutely worthy of recognition in the “WTF was I thinking!” Hall of Fame. Nothing to be proud of, right?
Mistakes are something we simply have to accept as the inevitable price of being human. The challenge is that we are all driven by an instinctive need to hide and run from our mistakes. This is basic evolutionary psych 101. If you wanted to be part of a tribe you had to prove that you were worthy of membership. The fewer mistakes you made the more worthy you were. Not only do we not want to admit to making mistakes but we will actively shy away from keeping company with people who do.
What if I were to tell you that the formula to success and happiness it’s actually just the opposite? That you should take pride in your blunders? You’re already cringing at the mention of it!
What sparked these deep thoughts in me on a lazy Saturday morning? My daughter is graduating from college tomorrow and my son from High School in a few weeks. I was wondering what advice to give them. And it occurred to me that if I could go back and give myself one piece of advice it would be incredibly simple, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because those will be the greatest opportunities in your life to continue growing and learning.”
Think about it. The bigger your screw-up the greater the opportunity to learn from it. Notice I said opportunity, because the choice is always ours to ignore and hide the mistake (or hide from it) or to learn from it. So, the more mistakes you make, and admit to, the more you will learn and grow.
“…if I could go back and give myself one piece of advice it would be incredibly simple, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because those will be the greatest opportunities in your life to continue growing and learning.’ “
That’s not sitting well with you, is it? The reason is that the older we get the more time we spend keeping track of and avoiding mistakes. Does a one-year old keep track of the times he or she will fall as they learn to walk? Of course not. If that was the case none of us would ever walk upright! Yet, 16 years of schooling teaches us to find the “right” answers, so that we can be graded based on how few questions we get wrong, and to learn as a mechanism to avoid mistakes rather than to learn as a result of making them.
Look, both are true; we learn in order to avoid mistakes but we also learn from them. The key is to accept that our success depends on both sides of that equation.
So, if making mistakes is inevitable and that important to our growth, is there a right way to make them? Absolutely!
1. Admit the mistake to yourself quickly and think about the drivers that caused it.
What were your motivations, intentions, fears, dreams that formed the foundation for what you did? Are those valid and honest drivers? If they are then what can you learn about the value of having made the mistake? Really dig deep here. Don’t over rationalize or over think. Often it’s not the actual mistake but the forces driving it that we need to understand.
2. Admit the mistake to others who have been impacted by it.
The irony is that when we screw-up it’s typically most obvious to the people we are trying to hide it from. Coming clean, thinking through what lessons you’ve learned, and then sharing them is key. There’s a school of thought that says, “The only time we truly have gotten over a bad relationship is when we can take accountability for our role in and contribution to the problem..” There is nothing more powerful than a person who not only owns up to his or her mistakes but also takes accountability for their repercussions. These are the people that we trust the most. They are not afraid of seeing themselves and their actions accurately.
3. Don’t delay either 1 or 2 above.
Failing Fast has become a bit of moniker on the last 10 years as it applies to innovation But I believe you can equally apply it to all mistakes. If you avoid the first two steps in admitting the mistake to yourself and to those affected by it you are compounding the gravity of the error.
4. Get ready to do it again and again.
Acknowledge that this is not the first nor the last mistake you will make. It may not even be the most glorious. If fact be hopeful that your spirit and passion are young enough and that you are strong enough to wish that your biggest screw-ups are still ahead!
Mistakes will happen as long as you keep trying to reach for something beyond your grasp. And ultimately that’s the whole point–to reach for those things that stretch and shape us in ways we never would have expected or even imagined.
Now go and make some mistakes you’ll be proud of!
This article was originally published on Inc.
Image credit: studybreaks.com
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.
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