“Not again!” yells that little voice inside of you as you make a mistake for the umpteenth time. We have all felt the pain of failure. And, because it’s so painful, shouldn’t we avoid it at all costs? Not at all.

Image credit: flickr / Laura Billings

Mistakes (along with opposable thumbs) make us human. The worst mistake we can make is in deceiving ourselves into thinking that we can be mistake free. That pursuit will lead you to be trapped in a prison of perfectionism.

A tale of two mistakes

There are two types of mistakes that you can make.

  1. Mistakes of commission (you did something that was a mistake)
  2. Mistakes of omission (you didn’t do something and that was a mistake)

You and I tend to lean towards the second type of mistakes. I want to encourage you to make mistakes of the first type.

A mistake of omission

Just before I became a commercial sales manager for an outside sales company, I set a record for the largest commission check for the client we represented. At the same time, the company was running a three month long contest that ended shortly after my accomplishment. The reward was an all expense paid trip for two for five days in Cancun, Mexico. I never took the trip.

I had just become manager and wanted to be with the team at least a month before taking the trip. After a month, I began the process of getting a passport. I even paid extra to have the process sped up. Everything was going well. Until I got a letter from the US government saying that they couldn’t accept my birth certificate.

Because I was born outside of the USA (on a United States Air Force base in Misawa, Japan), I had to have a new type of birth certificate. To get the updated birth certificate, I had to fill out a form, attach $50, and send it to Washington D.C.. Easy, right?

I kept putting it off and eventually the summer and even the fall passed. It was the beginning of March when I finally left the company, but I never took the trip – a fantastic trip! All because I didn’t do something.

A mistake of commission

In my most recent job as an insurance agent, I was working with the athletes of a university to secure policies that satisfied the NCAA so that they could play their respective sport.

One of the athletes was an international student from England. In addition to his athletic coverage, he also needed auto coverage for a vehicle his parents were about to buy. Wanting to be as helpful as possible, I assured them that our agency could handle coverage for a foreign driver.

While we actually could provide coverage for him, the process was much more complicated than I or our office anticipated.

After gathering all the information, save the VIN because he hadn’t purchased the vehicle, we had our preliminary price. However, after giving us the VIN and going out to all of our markets, I got the call from my office telling me that the price quadrupled!

Needless to say, the call to the athlete’s father was one of the most embarrassing calls I’ve ever had to make. Here I’ve gotten them on board with a price and ready to buy. They’re loving me and they’ve been really patient customers. Until now.

I’ll save you all the details, but the next four hours after I dropped the bomb were spent making countless phone calls trying to figure out what happened, how or if we could fix it, and getting threatened with a lawsuit.

I felt terrible.

My Dad, who is also an insurance agent for the same agency, came and sat with me outside of the restaurant that I our family was at while I was in the car feeling like a failure. He shared something with me that stuck with me, “the only people who make mistakes are the ones who actually trying to freakin’ do something.”

I made a mistake with the client. BUT, I made it trying to go the extra mile to serve them. I can live with that.

Why you should make more mistakes

  1. Making mistakes means that you are actually doing something.
    Go back to my Dad’s quote. If you have the boldness to step out and do something, then you’re going to mess things up from time to time.
  2. Making mistakes means you have more opportunities to learn.
    After missing the opportunity to go on the trip I won, I learned that you need to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Mistakes are only stupid if you do not learn from them.
  3. Making mistakes means you are a person with courage.
    You are a person of real courage do something that isn’t 100% safe. Take comfort in the fact that your mistakes mean you’re in rare company of those who dare to do more than sit by and let life happen to them.

I am far from advocating that you shouldn’t do all you can to do to reduce mistakes. However, I want to reduce the fear you feel about ever making one. Fear paralyzes.

You will achieve more than you can ever thought possible by having the courage to try new things and take the road less traveled. Mistakes will hurt you but not kill you. I hope you will fight the good fight and dare to be great!

[reminder]What mistake have you made from which you’ve learned the most?[/reminder]

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