Permission to Make Mistakes

by Ben Holt on March 21, 2012

I’m good at everything. [ha!]

I laughed when my friend Dylan told me about this. He was talking with his roommate about me and my interests in blogging and business after a party I attended and the roommate setup me up on a kind of pedestal.

“Ben’s good at everything. I want to find something I’m better than him at.”

Well, he doesn’t know me very well. In fact, I’m bad at most things. Very bad, sometimes. But I’m pretty good at one key skill:

I give myself permission to fail.

I’ve come to understand that the point is not to succeed; the goal is not to reach perfection. The point is to do. The goal is to finish something, so we can get on to whatever is next.

Finishing includes:

Or “shipping”, if you’ve read Seth Godin’s Linchpin. This means fulfilling your end of the deal, whether literally completing a project, or showing up, fully engaged and ready. Hitting the mark here means you kept your promise, met your expectation (hopefully you exceeded it), and delivered the goods.
You just gained a unique opportunity to learn how not to to something. It’s time to dust off and get back in the saddle. Take a moment to pause, though, and be sure you’re still on the right track. If you’re still pursuing what’s inline with our larger goals, make some corrections and try again. If not, there’s no shame in…
Quitting is what got me where I am today. I’ve quit so many things, so many times, I’ve lost track. I’ve quit school, I’ve quit drinking (several times ;-), I’ve quit jobs and relationships and consumerism and philosophies. I quit eating meat, and I quit doubting myself. I quit something when I find that it no longer benefits me (or my family and community) to continue.

You finish something so you can do the next thing.

Pivoting is a term used often in the business start-up world. It means finding a new focus after learning lessons pursuing your initial vision. Pivoting gives you a new finish line to work toward. You start out making Widget A only to discover a more profitable market for the related but different product, Widget B. It happens all the time and, when it happens with purpose and intelligence, is the key ability of companies and people that make a difference. Pivoting is about letting go of emotional attachments to a failing course of action. In fact, being able and willing to pivot is a key advantage that small companies have over large ones; and that smart, open-minded people have over those unwilling to look and act outside their little box.

[Those are the four "finishing points" I can think of, but if you've got something else, please leave a note in the comments section below. I love when people leave comments: it tells me I'm communicating well!]

We can’t finish, though, if we’re too scared of mistakes to make our move. This is one big reason why so many people (and businesses, because business are just people) stagnate and falter. We don’t want to risk looking bad or feeling bad, so we don’t do anything big. We don’t take risks. We don’t make waves, and we don’t make choices. We find empty work to fill our time and help us avoid facing the truth of the situation: it’s time to start something.

So in 2012, give yourself permission to make mistakes – especially big ones! – and I don’t doubt that you’ll have success.

I plan to fail at one really big thing this year. I don’t yet know what it is, but I know it’ll happen. Knowing that it’s in the plan has removed all anxiety and worry. I’m waiting for it, ready you learn from it, and move on to fail even bigger than before.

[What have you failed at? Where did it take you? Leave a comment and let us know.]

  • Adrienne

    Hey Ben,

    Well, I make mistakes all the time which is why I believe I’ve gotten to where I am.  I like that old saying that “I’m failing forward”.  

    Sometimes a lot of what I do doesn’t work or like you, I’ll quit.  But it’s because that is either not working for me or I’ve decided I want to go a different direction.  There is no harm in that at all.  

    I think that’s pretty cool that your roommate thinks so highly of you.  Maybe you’ll be the inspiration he needs to keep going until he finds what he’s good at and has the passion for.

    Wonderful post and thanks for your insights.  Always good to hear this from someone I’ve never met before.  I love the different perspectives on these topics.  Well done Ben!

    • / Ben Holt

      Thanks for adding your thoughts, Adrienne :-)

      “Falling forward” is a beautifully succinct way of describing this idea. There’s a proverb – I believe Japanese or Chinese – that says, “fall down eight times, get up nine.”

  • Andrew

    great post, it is so true that you cant move forward without making a mistake somewhere along the line and you will learn from the mistakes, if you don’t make a mistake then you have got problems, that is what i believe. thank you for the share.

    • / Ben Holt

      Thanks, Andrew!

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