How contemplating “mistakes” helps us all learn more

I read a book recently called “The Failure of Success” which I really want to share with folk.

“There is a growing acceptance that failure can not only lead to success but can open us to profound change. If we let go of the quest for individual perfection, and accept what is, our lives and relationships will be enriched… 

“Putting one foot in front of the other, neither afraid of failure nor triumphant with success. Living, in other words.”

Thank you Jennifer Kavanagh for a wonderful book that sings straight to the heart of how life is, beyond duality.

I’ve had my fair share of “failures” and certainly made many, many “mistakes” in my time. The ” ” are because they really end up not seeming like how we think of these words over time.

The Serenity Prayer is something I apply to these painful experiences, again and again. Many other things, like Buddhist teachings and psychotherapy help too.

Also reflecting on what I’ve heard several funding organisations say (eg. Esme Fairbairn)… “we want to know what went wrong and how you learnt from it.” No-one’s going to believe “it’s all good” anyways.

A word of caution to self though. Now it’s ‘cool’ to talk about failure, we’re encouraged to trot out our obligatory story, like when someone asks us to share a weakness in a job interview. It seems to me, real lessons are deep and painful and take years to make sense of. They are messy and complex and many layered. They take time to reveal their mystery.

And just spotted this article:

“Why the greatest enemy of creative success is the attempt to fortify against failure.”

“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before,” Neil Gaiman urged in his commencement-address-turned-manifesto-for-the-creative life.

“The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself,” philosopher Daniel Dennett asserted in his magnificent meditation on the dignity and art-science of making mistakes.

Read the full story here.


And I want to publicly spill the beans on some mistakes and lessons learnt.

1.  I will again never sell my house to fund a project or enterprise, no matter how worthy or full of potential it might be.

2.  I will always put my health and wellbeing first, including my spiritual life.

3.  Relationships matter. A lot. They need regular watering, and space.

4.  Being a serial social entrepreneur is authentic and positive, but there are other options.

5.  Creativity is essential, personal and needs time and space.

6.  Bodysurfing under moonlight when you are 18, stoned, and showing off, is not a good combination.

7.  And lucky 7, I don’t need to micro-manage my teenager to protect her. She’s mostly got it sorted.

Nuff said. You can guess at all the difficult steps along the path to realising these life lessons, and have your own versions too, no doubt.

I’m still up for taking creative risks, but perhaps more informed ones, on the spiral path upwards. Here’s hoping.

“Trust in Allah and tether your camel” as my dear old Ma used to say.

She was as likely to go to the Quakers or the Buddhists as to God or Allah. A seeker, in the truest sense of the word.

What’s your definition of success I wonder?

Ralph Waldo Emerson / Bessie Stanley often comes to mind for me. I think Mum lived that way. Dear Jen. There you are again. Not going to appear in Wikipedia but a great “success” all the same.

Tricky word really. It eats it’s own tail.



One response to “How contemplating “mistakes” helps us all learn more

  1. Yes yes yes! Too much time I have wasted on ‘what ifs’ and in my Art Therapy practise I have learned to put all my past ‘mistakes’ and wounds into perspective. Also to know where they came from helps enormously. EG seeing patterns of behavior, causal and knowing how to change my life’s script. WOW! Meditation and Mindfulness are my ‘mothers little helpers” these days AND EMDR! So many tools we have at our fingertips and transformation doesn’t have to take years with the likes of “Gerties”! Thanks for your thoughts; always insightful.

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