I’ve spent most of my life doing my best to avoid mistakes. At all costs. It seemed like a good strategy–a good way to stay “out of trouble” and the best path to success. Then some smart, successful, and very talented people began encouraging me to make mistakes. On purpose.
It started about fifteen years ago in a portrait photography workshop with a well-known, gifted teacher. She gave me a weird assignment: spend a week taking photographs the wrong way. Cut off heads, hands, and feet in awkward places. Get too close, overexpose your shots, and ignore the rule of thirds.
It was hard to do. It felt strange. But by the end of the week, I was experimenting and shooting with way more spontaneity and abandon. Many of the photos were useless, but a few were downright lovely. Beautiful Mistakes.
Photography has always been easier and more fun since then. I shot the photo above this post last summer in Woodstock, New York. I was with my family and the backseat of the car we’d parked next to was so Woodstock, chock full of 60’s hippie stuff—drums, tie-died t-shirts, Indian blankets. I wanted a photo of it and I had only a few seconds because everyone was hungry and waiting for me. I grabbed my iPhone and quickly took one shot. I didn’t realize the reflection of the car window would show my hands and the trees behind me. But I think the result is far more interesting than what I’d planned—a Beautiful Mistake.
Then I met Martha Beck, my wonderful mentor, who insisted that not only should I break the rules I’d been operating under, I should create my own rules. At every turn over the last eight years, Martha has lovingly been in my face, pushing me to trust my inner guidance, make my own rules, and be willing to fall flat on my face.
Martha introduced me to improv in our Master Coach training. Improv can only be done successfully when you are willing to look like a complete idiot. You must be totally spontaneous–improv moves way too fast to plan anything. It was fun and I thought it might help me with my perfectionism and “avoid mistakes at all costs” tendencies.
So I took a couple of improv classes locally with Carey Kane here in Miami. At first I dreaded my turn. My lines often fell flat. But the more I did it, the more comfortable I got with looking like a complete idiot. By the end of the classes, I was consistently having fun and sometimes zinging out some pretty funny lines.
Now I’m in a memoir writing class with the awesome Andrea Askowitz of Miami’s Lip Service. Each week, we’re given a couple of provocative prompts (a time you wish you spoke up and didn’t, how you edit the truth when talking to friends, a time you knew you shouldn’t have had sex and did anyway). We dive right in, writing spontaneously for ten minutes without editing anything.
Then the real fun begins—we read our stories aloud to each other. We give each other feedback—what’s interesting, what needs clarification, what doesn’t fit. We cannot criticize our own work or skip our turn. The only comment Andrea allows us to make before we read is, “This is the best thing I’ve ever written.”
The stories written by my classmates are consistently poignant and horrifying and heart-wrenching and funny and often downright brilliant. They seem to feel the same way about my stories. We discover things about ourselves we weren’t aware of. We’re often surprised when the group laughs or cries when we read something we thought was stupid. We see ourselves in each other’s stories—the universal messiness and glory of being a human. Each week, I fall more deeply in love with these wonderful people who are so willing to expose themselves in the name of creativity and self-exploration. The mistakes of our writing and the mistakes of our lives are on full display and it is truly beautiful.
I’ve discovered that my willingness to make mistakes has served me far more than my commitment to avoiding them. Here’s a list of some of the advantages I’ve found in my adventures in Beautiful Mistakes:
1. Creative projects are much easier and more interesting.
2. I’m bolder and have more self-confidence.
3. I’m more spontaneous and self-censor less.
4. I don’t cringe so much when I goof something up.
5. I have more fun at everything I do.
6. I’m more willing to try new things and to experiment.
7. I’m better at brainstorming when I work with a group.
8. It’s easier to apologize when I’m wrong.
9. I’m more vulnerable which makes my relationships richer and more authentic.
10. Best of all, I feel a greater connection and love for others and a huge tolerance for their mistakes.
It’s been a pretty good payoff, I think, for doing things wrong. These days, I can’t wait for my next Beautiful Mistake. How about you?