On perfectionism and making mistakes

Mistakes used to be my enemy. I have learned to question my perfectionism, to scrutinize it, making more peace with my mistakes. Somehow in my past, I don’t know why, mistakes I made upset me and I would abuse myself with denigrating self-talk. I am much better now after years of work. I’ve learned I can make mistakes my friend instead of my enemy. Mistakes are great teachers, perhaps the best teachers and now when I make a mistake, I celebrate, saying: “Yay! What can I learn from this?” My life is more rich and peaceful because of this re-framing of the word “mistake”.

Thomas Edison failed by trying nearly 1000 filaments until he found the right filament for the invention of the light bulb. His learning from mistakes changed history. Indeed, failure is a learning process and presents itself as an opportunity. Failure is not a negative thing. With introspection and grit, one can make failure a coach, a teacher.

It’s the ego that is wrapped up in perfectionism. Learning the connection between ego and perfectionism was enlightening for me. I was particularly tough on myself when I made mistakes on the drums because I’ve been playing since I was seven, how could I still make errors? I am always wondering how my musical heroes deal with mistakes, because some of them, like drummer Dennis Chambers, sound perfect all the time.

I have been learning over the years that my reaction to my mistake is key to not making it a mistake at all! Listen to what jazz vibraphonist Stefon Harris says about making mistakes on this Ted Talk, and learn how perfectionist doctors come to grip with their own mistakes. The final story of this podcast is about a brilliant woman researcher who chose opposition and resistance in order to prove her theories. This is inspiring stuff!

Put this audio Ted Talk into your smartphone or mp3 player, take it with you, and may you be more liberated.


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