Friday, May 20, 2005

Taking risks and making mistakes

If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.— Thomas Watson, Sr. (founder of IBM)


It's funny how the little things that make up our daily routines can teach us a lot about ourselves.

Many years ago, I purchased a bunch of flowers for our dining room table, went home to my kitchen, and prepared to arrange them in a vase.

As I pruned the leaves I thought about trying something new.

I wanted to experiment with a different type of arrangement that required me to cut the stems very short.

As I was about to cut the first flower stalk, I stopped, concerned that by losing so much of the stem I would ruin any chance of using the flowers if my idea didn't work.

The minute I noticed my hesitation a question popped into my head:
"If you can't risk making a mistake, how will you ever create anything new?"

In that moment the simple act of arranging flowers became a metaphor for how a fear of making mistakes can stifle our creativity.

Rather than try something new, it's easier to operate within a comfort zone — one that guarantees success.

I'm sure you know what I mean.

Maybe you're an artist who's hesitant to start a painting because you're afraid that no one will like it (or that you won't like it).

Or, a business owner who never expands your offerings because you're afraid that no one will buy your new product or service.

My experience with the flowers prompted me to ask others how a fear of making mistakes prevents them from taking risks and enjoying their lives.

See if you can identify with any of the following examples . . . .

"I keep procrastinating about painting my bedroom a new color because I'm afraid of choosing the wrong shade. "

"I'd like to take a new study class, but because I often pressure myself to master a new activity right away, I'm hesitant."

"I've had a fantasy of changing my hair style for more than a year but I keep holding out because I'm afraid I might regret it. "

"I'd like to find a new job, but I need to update my resume and I'm concerned that it won't look right."

"I'm nervous about leaving my cluttered, cramped apartment for something bigger because I may not feel comfortable in a new place. "

"I pretend to know more than I do because I don't want to appear stupid or foolish. "

"I'm afraid of sharing my problems with those close to me for fear that I'll regret what I said later on."

It's sad to hear about how our fear of making mistakes prevents us from expressing our creativity and fully living our lives.

Years ago, when I realized I had this problem I decided to take a contrarian approach and take risks nd do new things.

I allowed myself to try new things even though I was wary of what might happen.

I took risks with certain ventures.

And, I challenged myself to not give in to the part of me that wanted to play it safe.

The good news is this: I'm still here to talk about it. ( Yes, I've suffered losses and my the direction of my life changed dramatically but I'm still very much alive!)

While it's prudent to plan for worst-case scenarios, the truth is you will make mistakes.

You'll make a wrong decision.

You'll experience regret.

And you'll live to talk about it.

The trick is to surround yourself with people who will support you through your learning process.

So, go ahead.

Practice making mistakes.

If you can't risk making a mistake, how can you ever create anything new?

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