When I was a kid I thought mistakes were bad. I thought I needed to be perfect and mistakes are not part of perfection. I became very good at avoiding making them.
It took me a long time to truly accept that there is no such thing as perfection and that mistakes happen and that they are certainly not an accurate measure of value or worthiness.
I grew older still and learned to embrace my mistakes as part of a trial and error, A/B testing approach to life. “You learn from your mistakes” they say – so I did. Or at least I tried.
Our past mistakes don’t always prevent us from repeating them; at best they make us make different ones. A client’s recent boyfriend did something he thought of as a mistake. Hey, when you enter a relationship with 80 years on Earth between the two of you, there is luggage and it’s heavier than a carry-on – there are wounds, scars, fears, insecurities… He apologised and told her “Please, I don’t want you to think I’m broken”. How beautiful! Who has never felt like that – but who dares vocalising it? Mistakes are not a sign of brokenness. How does the song go, “don’t mistake for brokenness what is just a fragile state of opening”?
The most forceful woman I’ve ever met (she once rear-ended the car of the Dutch cop that had just fined her, then yelled at the guy until he tore up the ticket!) could not stand the word “Mistake”. 15 years ago I sat with her in a meeting on how to reduce technical errors at work. She was in a frenzy and it took over the brainstorming session. It seemed to be mostly about semantics (but if you think she was Romanian and had spent the first 30 years of her life behind the Iron Curtain, one could understand how it would matter) but maybe she was on to something when she said to our boss <<You are NOT ALLOWED to say Mistake!!! Call it “a different way” or “a sub-optimal choice of parameters”>>. I’ll admit, back then I rolled my eyes – I’ve never been afraid of words and I call a cat a cat – you plug the wrong porosity in your model, it’s a mistake! But for many other choices in life, she likely has a point. Could we re-invent Language to get that there are no mistakes (except the porosity kind…), just Life?
One of my big mistakes is that I can dwell on my choices, “sub-optimal” or not – I want to fix things and make everything better. Recently I’ve been thinking a mistake does not always need to be analysed nor dissected, it does not always need to be improved upon. It does not need to be dismissed nor forgotten either. It could just be. I could try not to fix it, or know when to stop – not everything can be mended regardless of my best intentions, or maybe not straight away. What if I stopped trying to squeeze learning points out of everything? It would be less exhausting for one. On occasion it might even have prevented me from going temporarily cuckoo, “please don’t think I’m broken”-style.
Some mistakes are ugly. Some mistakes are beautiful. Most are neither. Very few are both.
For an artist to create meaningful, consistent work, one must have vision and intent. You can’t just wing it. You can’t rely on luck. It’s more about hard work than talent – you’ll never write a novel if you don’t write every day, inspired or not. Some mistakes will unexpectedly shape you further, give a new direction to your work. As for the rest of them? I’d say just let them be. The four photographs in this post are total mistakes – I never even intended to take them but I stopped myself from deleting them. Why?! There is nothing to learn here, nothing to improve upon… Still, I do find there’s a certain beauty in those; I might even print one. I can look at them without further judgment and move on. Not being able to fix this doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it – because fortunately Beauty is something you carry with you, always. And today’s another day – I get to make new mistakes, and with a bit of luck, be struck by Beauty again.