You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. James Joyce

In America, we’re obsessed with success. We’re obsessed with being more successful than our friends and family. We define ourselves by our success, or lack thereof. But hand-in-hand with our desperate need to succeed, is a paralyzing fear of failure. And that’s a problem. If you’re afraid to fail, you’ll never succeed. If you treat your mistakes like sins, if even the idea of making a mistake terrifies you, how are you going to achieve your dreams? (Spoiler alert: You won’t. You can’t. Because the mistakes are part of your dreams.)

Not to mention…what’s so bad about failing? Nothing, when you understand that failure only comes when you give up. As long as you don’t give up in the pursuit of whatever it is that makes your heart beat faster, you’re not a failure. I, personally, have endless respect for people who have put their lives on their line and are going for it, since I know first-hand how terrifying it is. People who make mistakes, and fail, and pick themselves up, and wipe away the tears — that’s not failure, that’s life.

Making a mistake and learning from it doesn’t make you a failure; you learned something! Now, go apply that knowledge and experience to your life, and keep going. Keep learning.

Failures, on the other hand, are people who make a religion out of excuses and can tell you exactly what they’d do in “a perfect world,” but right now, sorry, they’re busy, all that porn on the Internet ain’t gonna watch itself. (Actually…) I especially love people who say stuff like, “Well, in a perfect world, I’d be a writer like Robert Stone, or a director like Lee Daniels…but you know, that’s impossible.” Hmm. And yet you just named someone who is doing exactly what you want to do! So is it “impossible,” or is your punishing schedule of boozing, pills, cry-for-help Facebook status updates, and Candy Crush not leaving you much time to write?

That, to me, is failure: someone who makes excuses for his or her dreams because it’s “easier” to stay miserable. People like that have really committed to their self-loathing. Imagine what that commitment could do for their dreams. Imagine.

Maybe the problem is that we have this societal fantasy that success is a destination. Some people seem to seriously think that you’re SUCCESSFUL and a bell rings and suddenly you step into a world that smells like baking cookies, and the men and women are all hot, and unicorns and kittens roam free, or something. Whereas in reality, success is a really long journey with many, many moments of fear, frustration, exhaustion, anger, more exhaustion, crying under the covers, and some good times when you break through. And more crying.

Nowadays, with social media, we can see, on a real-time basis, our peers getting engaged, having children, getting promoted. All of which makes our (perceived) “failures” much worse. If you were just able to enjoy your own life, the good and bad of it, you’d probably think it was pretty damn good. But then, you go on Facebook and you see one friend got engaged, another just purchased a house, a third got married or is going to Thailand, and suddenly you think,”…wtf is wrong with me, I’m such a loser.” Just remember that you’re seeing the director’s cut of other people’s lives, as you live your unedited version.

I have a lot of clients in the millennial generation who come to me with, to my mind, perfectly reasonable goals. But many of these same clients are unable to achieve their goals, because they’re terrified of failing. They’ll say “Well, I’ll do [fill in the blank], Carlota, if you really think it’ll work.” While flattered, I want to say, “If I had those kinds of powers, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’d be riding a broomstick somewhere, and unleashing thunder and chaos on all who disobeyed me and the cats. Obviously, none of this would be in Queens.” Instead, I run a small business in Queens, helping people get out of their own way and stop punishing themselves. (So no, I don’t have those powers. But I do think that what I’m suggesting will work. At the very least, it has a larger likelihood of working than all that porn does.)

Interestingly enough, I started this business after being extremely successful in my late teens and 20s, and then extremely unsuccessful in my mid to late 30s. But one reason I was so successful in my 20s in TV news, was that I had no problem whatsoever making very public mistakes. I had no problem at all asking for what I wanted, and when I was rejected — as happened frequently — I’d shrug it off and try something else. My bosses loved me because they could hire me and throw me into difficult situations, and I’d figure it out as I went along. And yes, some of that “figuring it out” meant being screamed at, in public, by bureau chiefs and anchors. Some of that “figuring it out” meant being verbally humiliated in front of an entire newsroom. After which, I had to return to my desk, crying, and get back to work. There was also the time a certain anchor threw a filled water cooler at me. I ducked.

So when I tell people to get used to making mistakes and stop treating mistakes like sins…I know what I’m talking about. And I also know that people who are afraid to make mistakes are stuck. Like the 47 year old call girl I knew, briefly, who would get almost violently angry with herself when she made (normal) mistakes, and would refuse to even discuss them. In fact, she so hated making the mistakes necessary to change her life that it was easier for her to remain a hooker, than to do the (hard) work of bringing all of the wonderful ideas in her brain to fruition. It was easier for her to wake up crying in the mornings, and afternoons, and usually evenings, and have sex with men who loathed her, and despised themselves, than it was for her to take responsibility.

If you want an interesting life of your very own, instead of just watching other people have fun on Netflix, you’re going to have to get very comfortable very quickly with making huge mistakes. Make big mistakes and learn from them. Do it enough, and you’ll start to relax as you realize that there’s no such thing as failure. There’s just life. Your life.

If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner. Tallulah Bankhead Thought Catalog Logo Mark
featured image – Gianni Cumbo

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