Welcome to today’s blog: mistakes. We’ve all made them, suffered through them, regretted them, and obsessed over them. And, I trust, learned from them, even laughed at them.
I made another one last week when this post launched early. Who noticed?
Accidents, blunders, errors, faux pas, gaffes, messes, mishaps, or slip-ups: we hate them all. Of course we do.
What’s your usual reaction when you realize you’ve made a mistake? Do you want to run and hide? Do you blame? Who was the comedian who’s line was “The devil made me do it.” Do you laugh?
There are many ways to make mistakes. Here are some of my favorites:
Recipe mistakes “take the cake.” More than other types, the results can be in rather bad taste. (Sorry).
Years ago there was the dinner to introduce my fiancé to my visiting family. I decided to make his favorite pie, pumpkin chiffon, for dessert. I’d never made it, so I got the recipe from his mother, bought the necessary ingredients, and spent an afternoon putting the pie together. How hard could it be? I had no idea, since I’d never made any chiffon pie before.
Unfathomably, I confused egg yolks with egg whites. Dessert time came and gooey blobs of pumpkin chiffon plopped onto each plate. When he laughed and asked incredulously, “What’s this?” I ran from the table in tears, unable to see any humor in my mortification. Mistakes for me back then came automatically packaged with shame and humiliation.
A few years later, I made a cake for a neighbor who was ill. I learned only after she recovered that I’d misread SALT for SUGAR. She’d been unable to eat it. By then I’d matured to feeling merely embarrassed.
Other recipe mistakes I’ve heard about include the young man who used the entire garlic bulb when the recipe called for one garlic clove.
Or the new wife who left the innards inside the turkey for her first Thanksgiving as hostess. Can you envision these? Do you chuckle? I do.
Of course it’s easier for me chuckle since these were not my mistakes.
Auto accidents are another common mishap category. One afternoon I thought I had enough room to back up my brand new car. Another time I thought I’d take a shortcut out of a parking lot and instead turned my car into a cement block. These were expensive mistakes. I’ve never forgotten.
Decisions. Some mistakes are more expensive than others. One week in 2007, just before the housing bubble burst, my husband and I decided not to sell our Virginia house — the offer was a little less than its 2006 appraised value. Boy, what I’d give to have that offer today! And, just last spring, I moved our ducks to the barn a month earlier than usual and the eggs they produced that season got caught in a late spring freeze and froze. These are decisions I’d make differently today.
Language mistakes are legion. When I taught English in Kazakhstan, many of my students were afraid to speak unless they knew they would speak perfectly. As you might imagine, they were rather quiet. Fear of making a mistake can be intimidating, especially when you are learning something new, like a new language. And, the ones who were less afraid to make a mistake, wound up learning much more.
The fear of making a mistake is powerful. But you don’t have to give in to it. (Well, marauding mama bears and rabid dogs are the exception.)
You’ll recognize this quote:
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
It’s from the 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope. I just learned he is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (after Shakespeare and Tennyson, according to Wikipedia).
To err is human. To make a mistake is part of the human experience. But have you ever thought about them? For example, are mistakes
- the price we pay? Or do they just go with the territory?
- just excess baggage we humans carry? Or do they have inherent value?
- to be feared? Or do we learn from them?
When you stand up to fear, see it for what it really is and stare it down, life is richer. But how to do that.
I’ve found my mistakes happen in (at least) one of the following circumstances:
- I am tired or sick; I’m “just not myself.”
- I lack experience or adequate information; I’m “in over my head.”
- I lack the patience it demands, or the attention it deserves; I’m in a hurry.
If I can identify which of these are at play, I can learn.
Mistakes can also be gifts. They teach us, help us to grow, and give life a little spice (particularly if you confuse a bulb of garlic with a clove!) I greet my mistakes with affection these days. At least I try to.
Experience, after all, is not only the best teacher, it is sometimes the only teacher.
I think of this often as I enter this “brave new world” of cyberspace and blogging and social media. I’ve already made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make more as I go. I look to you, my readers, to help me learn.
How do you meet your mistakes?
Is it easier to find the mistakes of others than it is your own?
Do you use words of dismissal and scorn? “I screwed up; what a dummy I am.”
Or, are you gentler, kinder to yourself? “Oh, look what I did. Isn’t that something?” I hope the later.
What’s your mistake story?
What banana have you recently slipped on, what recipe botched, what error in judgment cost you something dear?