Humans and Health

Mistakes and the Human Experience: Becoming Yourself by Getting it Wrong

A rock that says 'the world was made for mistakes'
Olivia Noronha

For many of us, mistakes and failure are touchy subjects. It’s unpleasant to think about the idea that we are not reaching our full potential. We might become so afraid of the sting of regret that we desperately try to avoid making mistakes altogether, which is ironically one of the worst mistakes to make. Olivia Noronha discusses the topic of making mistakes and why it is okay to get things wrong sometimes… 

As a 21-year-old about to graduate from university and finally make some decisions that I’ve been procrastinating ever since I finished school, such as the simple classic ‘’well, what now?”, I sometimes speculate on the mistakes I have made and the person I could have been if I had just “gotten it right” every step of the way.  

But the person I am and the outcome I embody right now is all I have. I don’t know what would have happened if I had supportive friends in my younger years instead of wasting energy on people who put me down, or if I went to school to improve myself rather than to fit in. It makes no sense to hoard the moments which I’ll never relive. 

Many of the opportunities I’ve been given would have been inaccessible without the lessons I learned through mistakes I made in the past.  

I couldn’t have implemented an effective exercise routine and found food freedom today if I hadn’t been an insecure 12-year-old kid, quitting my extracurriculars and starving myself to look like the ‘thinspo’ pictures I saw on Tumblr. 

I couldn’t have done well in school if I didn’t fail first, and I couldn’t have found real self-esteem if my ‘friends’ in my first school didn’t treat me like I was worthless.  

Sometimes, you need to be in bad situations or make poor choices to know that you deserve better. 

So, if mistakes are an inevitable part of the human experience, and can teach us valuable lessons, then why are we so afraid of making them? And how can we overcome this? 

Connection or Competition? Social media and Comparison

As much as I hate to be the “it’s because of that damn phone” like a nagging parent, I would suggest that one of the main reasons we collectively struggle with our self-image and our attitudes towards making mistakes is because of our ability to observe the things that someone else is doing at any given moment. 

This unnatural process of constant comparison is analogous to strapping a pile of bricks to our shoulders and wondering why we were heavier.  

That’s not to say that social media is an inherently bad influence on the way we view ourselves. Nor is it to say that people who present themselves as doing well are always faking it. However, it is less common for people to show their failures to the world than it is to show their successes.  

If your friend who goes clubbing every weekend posts pictures of themselves bonding with some mutuals you share, you might feel like you’ve made a mistake by staying home and doing yoga before bed. 

You might feel like you’re not living enough, not socializing enough. You think about the memories you could have made, and all that time you are losing.  

But what you don’t see is how sluggish your friend is the next day, how alone they feel despite sharing their time with others or how they wish they took care of themselves as well as you do. 

Your inner critic operates on a framework of what you think you should be, not what you are. If your idea of success rests on the foundations of what others are doing, you will never appreciate your own individuality. 

The next time you compare yourself negatively to someone on social media or in general, ask yourself whether you are creating an unreliable narrative, rather than just accepting your thoughts as reality.  

And believe it or not, what you might define a personal mistake or flaw in yourself, another person might view as a goal.

Focus on what feels authentic to you and you can’t go wrong. 

It’s never just about the mistake 

Generally, we associate mistakes with failure.  

If making a mistake just ended with the identification of said mistake, “I slept in”, then we probably wouldn’t fixate on them as much as we do. But “I slept in” digresses into “I needed to do this, I needed to do that” to “I’m lazy…”. This simple act of sleeping in, turns into a failure of character. No one wants to be a failure. 

Everyone wants a success story. But we need to accept that most of the time, we can’t find our centre of balance without wobbling a little bit first. 

Maybe you needed the rest. Maybe this was your only day off work or university for the whole week. Maybe you don’t need a reason at all. Think about the irrationality of your self-blame and find humour in it. 

Why are you treating yourself like a convict because you woke up at 10am instead of 9am? Negative self-talk hinders your productivity, and you’ll be further behind because of it than if you just allowed it. 

Every experience you’ve had has built you into the person you are in this moment, including the lessons you learn from your mistakes. 

Our internalization of our own mistakes can prevent us from acknowledging the lessons we can learn. Not only are mistakes inevitable, but they are also stepping stones for reaching our goals.

Did you know that Will Smith almost went bankrupt in 1985 before landing his role in Fresh Prince? Or that Albert Einstein failed a French exam before revolutionizing Physics?

Maybe you knew or maybe you didn’t, but the chances are that you do not see these people as being any less than what they are as a result of the mistakes they made in the past. If they never moved past their mistakes, they might not have become themselves. 

Every experience you’ve had has built you into the person you are in this moment, including the lessons you learn from your mistakes. 

I will ironically cringe at myself for including this but as Pablo Picasso quotes: 

When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.

Olivia Noronha

Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Morris via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article image 1 courtesy of @Onestepupcoaching via No changes were made to this image.

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