I want to have a conversation with you today about the concepts of failing and making mistakes. I hear these words frequently when I’m talking to people and working with clients. The moral of the collective story is that it’s better to never attempt something than to fail or make a mistake. This applies to life, business and relationships. I have yet to determine where this notion came from or how it managed to entrench into our psyches. I’ve seen many examples of it’s wrath from not buying a house, not taking a trip, not getting a degree, not taking a class, not quitting your day job that’s making you miserable, not pursuing entrepreneurship, not buying a new car and I could go on and on. All because it might be a mistake or because you might fail at it.
This illusion of failure and mistakes is a mother fucker. And it’s just that, an illusion.
Failure and mistake are labels we give to experiences. They’re negative and disempowering. And they are literally just labels. Experiences are neither negative or positive, however. They’re neutral, until we give them a label. Optimistic people tend to use positive labels while pessimistic and insecure people tend to use negative labels. Yet n every single experience, there is something positive.
My husband and I have friends, we’ve known since college, who have two of their four children battling cancer. Unheard of. Two of their four children have ongoing battles with cancer. Yet, they are positive, happy and a cohesive, supportive family like none I’ve ever seen. They appreciate every single day and it’s a good day if they are all home and no one is in the hospital. Cancer is a huge cloud that moved into their neighborhood, settled over their house, yet they see the sun, because they insist on it.
We all have had things happen to us that we hope never happen again, but there is always a silver lining to the cloud. What has ever happened to you that you couldn’t handle? You have, in fact, handled many problems, issues, crises, and unfavorable situations and undoubtedly did it like a boss. You might have handled it differently, in retrospect, but that doesn’t matter. You figured out a solution and did it.
My husband and I decided, for our 40th birthdays, to take the trip we’d wanted to take when we met at 18. Our kids were old enough to be on a plane for a long time and to appreciate being in foreign countries. I decided we should go and my husband agreed. So over several months I bought airfare, a cruise, hotels in different places. I bought books on traveling and what to do in Spain, Italy and France. Two weeks in Europe for four of us cost $20,000.
There were critics who thought we shouldn’t spend the money. We shouldn’t take the kids. I listened and we went anyway. When we got home, we realized our world had imploded while we were away. The business partnership my husband was part of broke down and he needed to immediately go out on his own again. And the money the partner owed us was, undoubtedly, not coming. A lot of money. Nearly six figures. Jet lagged, at 6am the morning after we got home, I was on my laptop fixing up my resume and sending out emails to contacts who might have a job for me. I hadn’t worked anywhere in six years but I had some friends and acquaintances I thought might be able to help. Within a week, I had two interviews and before week two was over, I had two job offers. Yes, you might say I was lucky. I was also determined. The economy crashed soon after I started working, resulting in my husband, an architect, having very little work as construction had ground to an abrupt halt. It was a very stressful time for us. We had to regroup. No more weekend get-aways, going to the movies or dining out. But if we were very careful, we’d make it.
In looking back, some might say I should have saved that $20,000 and that taking that trip was financially careless, a mistake. Nothing could be further from our perspective on it. The kids loved the history and culture of the places we visited. To this day, we would each say, those were two of the best weeks of our lives. The kids are still travelers. And, I know exactly where that $20k went, which wouldn’t be true if I hadn’t spent it on the vacation. Things went to hell when we got home, but we dealt with it. Spending the money was a risk that paid off in happiness and memories. That can never be a mistake.
Failure and mistake are words. They’re labels. They’re negative. And most often, self-imposed. They aren’t even labels other people apply to our experiences. We apply them. We punish ourselves with them and hold ourselves back from living our lives, having adventures and being the happiest version of ourselves because we might fail or make a mistake. Change your mind. Let experiences just be experiences. Live and learn. Reach for your own happiness. There will be struggles either way. Balance the struggles life throws at you with whatever makes you happiest. Go for it. Take risks. Have fun. Create a life you ridiculously love. Smile so often people wonder what you’re up to. Share your happy. You will be fine. I promise.