Mistakes are part of the human condition


Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, wrote this week about how ‘mistakes’ are just another moment in time. He uses the metaphor of mistakes in Navajo rugs, but as someone who enjoys spending time up mountains, it was this one that resonated with me:

If you climb a mountain you are sure to have a few missteps along the way. But you keep going. You don’t stop and start over if you trip here or take the wrong path there. You keep going. You can’t remove that step. It happened, it’s part of the climb. And when the climb is done, you’ve finished. As long as you made it to the top, you don’t call the climb a mistake.

Our culture and society focuses too much on mis-steps and not enough on the totality of the journey.

Extending the mountain-climbing metaphor, it’s all about the story that you tell yourself and others about the experiences along the way. For example, I can remember climbing up Skiddaw in the Lake District earlier this year. I had to really work hard to scramble up the scree with the bitingly-cold wind whipping around my body. I considered walking back down a couple of times. Then, when I did manage to get to the top, I realised there was the equivalent of a motorway coming up the other side. So much so, in fact, that people were running up the mountain!

Did that make my experience less valuable? No, not at all. The point of the walk I’d planned was to challenge myself and to put into practice things I’d learned on courses. Yes, some people were running up the other side of the mountain using a well-worn path, but my journey was not their journey. 

Next time I go up Skiddaw, I’ll probably take the easier route. But that didn’t make my journey up it full of mistakes. Likewise, I’ve taken a circuitous path to get where I am in my professional life, but that doesn’t mean it’s been error-laden. I see mistakes as learning experiences. They can also open up whole new areas of interest and focus. 

Image CC BY-NC tomsflickrfotos