Saturday, February 20, 2016

Living Happy #10: Screw Up Frequently

"Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement."

~Henry Ford

As I've frequently pointed out, people tend to learn a lot more from mistakes that they do from successes.  It's part of the learning process.  But for some reason, in today's society we've become terrified at the idea of making a mistake--and so we're hesitant to make decisions.  Instead we try and make decisions by consensus or committee so that when things go wrong nobody is really to blame.  And when big mistakes are made, the last thing we're going to do is admit them--right?  All you have to do is watch a White House press briefing to see that.  All the language wrangling and word parsing to make sure no clear position is taken on any issue and no clear blame is assigned or admitted even when mistakes were obviously made.  It's chronic today.  And it's sad.  It's what's wrong with leadership today.  Nobody wants to make a decision because nobody wants to accept the responsibility for the decision.

But life is about taking risks.  If you want to be happy, you have to take certain risks.  Some of those risks you make will turn out great.  Others . . . well, you'll crash and burn.  You make decisions and take risks when you choose a career, or when you choose a spouse.  You take risks when you buy a house.  You take risks when you leave your steady job for one that's a little more uncertain but probably more challenging and enjoyable.  You'll get some right, and some wrong, and when you get it wrong, you have to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, figure out what went wrong, and learn from it (and if you're me, repeat the very same mistake a few times just to make sure it was a mistake).

My first boss used to say, "Mistakes are to be expected, but excuses will get your ass fired."  It's always been my policy to admit my mistakes when I make them, no matter how stupid, or how embarrassing, or how damaging.  I've never been fired for making a mistake (well, except when I drove the forklift through the side of the Pepsi warehouse, but that was a temp job).  In fact, I've always been trusted more because I'm not afraid to admit an error.  I've been given generous leeway over the years in trying new things, in part because my employers over the years knew if my idea didn't work out, I'll be the first to admit it.  And boy have I made some whoppers!  But I've also had some huge successes along the way as well.  Fortunately, my successes have outweighed my failures--or I'd have certainly been fired a lot more than I have been.

You can't have a happy life fearing failure.  A safe life may indeed be very low-risk, but it's also going to be very unsatisfying.  I have friends that have a beautiful set of fine china they've never used.  It was a very expensive wedding present, and it is safely wrapped in bubble wrap and put away where it will remain lovely forever.  Of course it's hard to enjoy it when it's in a box, but they are so afraid of a chip, they'll never use it.  That china hasn't seen the light of day in twenty years, and it's unlikely to see the light as long as they're alive.  They don't even let the kids get around the box it's stored in.  That china reminds me a few people I know.  So afraid that life might damage them, they never get out of the box.  They're safe in the box, but the downside of staying in the box is they never do what they were intended to do--what they were created to do.  They never achieve their purpose. 

As John Paul Jones said, "Those who will not risk, cannot win."  Accept the fact that mistakes and failures are a part of life, and go out there and live life boldly.  As my youngest daughter Katie says, "go big, or go home." 

~Todd E. Creason

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