The Willingness to Make Mistakes
As I may have mentioned, I own a publishing company which specializes in reprinting out of print classics.
I became a businesswoman about 4 years ago. I was a poet and writer before that.
And guess what?
I made mistakes.
Some big ones.
For instance, a few months ago, I realized that we made a mistake which cost us several thousands of pounds over the last 2 years. At least.
Am I sad?
You want the honest answer?
The honest answer is NO.
Because I have so come to accept that making mistakes is part of being human, part of being limited, is, in fact, the way to high and interesting achievement. In 3 years, I got my publishing business to earn enough that my husband who was a Professor with a Chair in Mathematics, at the top of his pay-band, or whatever they call it, was able to take early retirement this summer. I did that by the willingness to keep the car moving, try things, make mistakes. This particular mistake I mentioned we realized was because I did not take the good advice of a professional, who had repeatedly advised us to take a particular step. I did not take it because of fear. It was an expensive gamble which she had advised. Then we gambled, and it paid off richly. So I just have to forgive myself for not gambling earlier.
* * *
My husband Roy is very clever. When he was 17, he won two scholarships. One was to do his senior year of high school in Japan (and learn Japanese!) One was the Girdlers’ scholarship for 3 years at Cambridge University, all expenses generously paid. There was ONE scholarship for the brightest schoolboy in New Zealand, where Roy grew up. He decided to win it, and did. After Cambridge, he did a Ph.D at Johns Hopkins, postdocs at Cornell and Stanford and Minnesota, won international prizes, won numerous prestigious grants and prizes.
Not a trajectory of someone who would be easy on himself or anyone else who made mistakes and messed up.
While I am too wide-ranging in my interests to be a scholar, I’ve generally done well academically. I went to Oxford. I have got several big life decisions right operating on a fuel mix of prayer, intuition and thinking. And so, when I get things wrong, I too am hard on myself. When clever people like Roy or my children get things wrong, I am not pleased.
And so when Roy and I started a business, we were very hard on each other. Roy was particularly hard on me when I got things wrong because of the largish sums of money involved.
Now, I must find the exact quote, but something I read in the summer of 2007, just when our publishing business was getting off the ground, set me free. Carol Wimber writes in “The Way it Was” about her life with John Wimber, and how they established The Vineyard Movement at high speed. “Who were we to think that we were so smart that we should never make mistakes?”
Gosh, that idea set me free. Who am I that I shouldn’t make mistakes? All human beings are limited. All human being make mistakes! Who am I to think that I am so smart that I should never get things wrong.
How liberating that willingness to get things wrong is. How fast one can steer one’s car! Think it out, make a decision, act. If it’s wrong, sigh, and drive in the opposite direction. It is easier to steer a moving car than one which never begins its journey.
Why did I write this post now? Because I bought two laptops fairly rapidly last month, one for myself, one for Zoe. Both, according to Roy, were far more expensive than they needed to be.
Yes, probably I made a mistake. Buying laptops is not something I know a lot about, or do every day. I got the information, and made a swift decision. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest decision, but who am I that I should never make a mistake? And think how much time that swift decision saved
That is what I am saying to myself these days as I declutter and deal with things I’ve bought which I haven’t needed or used. Who am I to to expect to be so smart that I should never make mistakes? Everyone makes mistakes. I too!
And the willingness to steer your car fast, to make a decision after absorbing a reasonable amount of data rather than an infinite amount of data liberates an enormous amount of time for more fruitful pursuits.
And here’s something from Thomas Merton. Thank you, Anne Jackson, http://flowerdust.net/category/merton-mondays/page/2/