Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mistakes, I Make 'Em

In my teaching days, I'd say to students, "No one's perfect. Why do you think pencils have erasers?" I'd remind them the only true failure was refusal to learn from mistakes. I'd chant that old chestnut, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again."

Obnoxious, huh? Yet, I spoke from the heart. I believe many of the lessons we're meant to learn appear in the form of mistakes.

But how I hate to make them.

Last weekend, I wildly underestimated the time it would take to prepare for a baby shower and greeted the mother-to-be, her mother, and the first few guests with rollers in my hair. (What woman uses rollers in this day and age? The kind who fried the innards of her hair dryer. Yup, another mistake.)

Although I correctly read the train schedules for an upcoming trip, I failed to notice that fares varied according to time of day, with the cheapest for departures at half past dawn or arrivals at the stroke of midnight. Sadly, I'm a cheap-fare gal who'll be traveling with at least two people who hate mornings. I guess I'll be buying the to-go coffee.

One of my cats recently had teeth extracted and required an antibiotic. Per the directions on the box, I diluted the medicine, only to discover later the vet tech had already done so. (I should have known this as the vet's office handed me three clipped pages of instructions.) Rather than waste the twice-diluted stuff, I doubled every dose. The cat's misery quadrupled, and he's still giving me the stink eye.

"Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life." - Sophia Loren

My life's full.

Many, many years ago, I invited a brand-new boyfriend to dinner. To impress him, I made moussaka. My boyfriend ate heartily—and then threw up. (Reader, I married him—and not just to ensure his silence.)

My cooking's improved since then. In fact, many praise it. What if I'd given up after my disastrous Greek dinner?

One day, when I was still learning to drive, my dad warned me the driver ahead was going to turn even though that driver hadn't slowed and certainly hadn't signaled. Sure enough, the guy hung a left, and I decided my father must possess psychic powers. "How did you know?"

My dad probably shrugged and said something like, "After a while, you get a feel for what the other guy's doing to do."

I didn't believe him then, but he was right. With experience, we develop a sixth sense for what other drivers are apt to do. In time, we become competent behind the wheel—even if we failed parallel parking our first try at the test..

A would-be writer may attend conferences, take online classes, and read dozens of how-to books, but nothing of significance happens until he or she begins typing, backs the story into a corner, self-corrects, and learns from that false start.

"Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts." - Nikki Giovanni

I know better but am avoiding work on a project because I'm paralyzed with fear--of failure. This, despite the fact I learned to cook, drive, and give a cat many eyedroppers full of medicine.

It's time for me to step up the positive affirmations and pull out the schoolteacher's all-important question: Why do you think pencils have erasers?

What do you avoid because you're afraid of failure?


Prudence MacLeod said...

Oh, this post took me down memory lane and gave me a good laugh. Our mistakes get funnier the more distance in time we have from them. My list is too long to go into here, but I can answer your question.
Machines baffle me. The internal combustion engine is as alien to me as a martian landscape.
I have another one now, photo shop. Got the program, but can't make heads or tails of it. (Yes this is the first time I've confessed it)

Ginger said...

Don't you just love being human? I do. Perfection would bore me to tears and is sorely overrated!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

What, Prudence? Something baffles you? Now I feel better about my flubs. BTW, I don't get PhotoShop, either.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I kike the way you think, Ginger. Not boring sounds better than mistake-prone.

Sheila Seabrook said...

Oh, I'm right with you, Pat, making mistakes, sometimes learning from them, sometimes repeating them before I've learned my lesson. :)

I once book tickets to an Elton John concert in March, then booked the flight to Vegas to see him in February. Yikes!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I fear looking incompetent, and in my books, vetting the dreaded bad review because of typos, grammar mistakes, or inadequate research. This fear makes me take three hours to write what should be a simple blog post. And yes, I've made the flight-booking screwup like Sheila - that one cost me $500. Ouch!

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Well Pat, I'm glad you haven't let the uh ohs defeat you. After all, to err is human! And having a dinner guest throw up but then later become your spouse is definitely not a mistake, that was fate!

Very nice post. My post today is about a driving experience with my dad. If you get a chance, stop by

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Coleen Patrick said...

It depends on if the mistake is public!
Or if you can marry the guy to keep him silent--ha ha. That one had me laughing Pat.
Fear of failure, esp. when something is important is a big one for me too.
It always feels a bit better when you know others feel the same!
Thanks :)

Christine said...

LOL! I almost poisoned my DH too. And yes, I've made plenty of mistakes throughout life. As Ginger says how boring it would be if it was all plain sailing.

Sometimes a failure is a blessing when we look back and realise we'd never be where we are or do what we're doing if not for a certain event. Spooky stuff.

Great post.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

So, you had to hang out in Vegas for a month in order to make the concert, right, Sheila? Brilliant!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Jennette, I'm with you on three hours for a simple blog post. Then, as soon as I hit "publish," I spot a typo. So far, I haven't messed up a flight booking, but I'll whine to you and Sheila when I do.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia/Jansen,
Fate huh? I'll take it. I'm now heading over to your blog. Hope your dad was as patient as mine when teaching you to drive.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
Misery loves company, but we really should nag each other out of our fear. Want me to use my classroom voice?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Christine,
In hindsight, we come across as wily and wise. After accidentally making our significant others sick, we and the meals we make have nowhere to go but up.

Emma Burcart said...

That is so true! I am going through a similar thing now with being afraid to move forward on some of my goals. You have just given me the inspiration I need. Thank you! I will be ok with making mistakes and keep pushing forward.

Diane Capri said...

You are soooooooo right! I've got the chair right next to you in the "lessons learned" department!

Lark Howard said...

Great post, Pat!! But rollers? Really? How hilarious!

I avoid ice skating, skiing and running. Experience has proven I'm hopeless at these particular activities--failure and misery are givens.

My mistakes are ones of commission, not omission, so I hear, "What were you thinking?!!!" a lot. I'm always amazed at how many new mistakes there are to make. The possibilities are endless. :-)

August said...

Terrific wisdom from your dad. Driving certainly provides some prime metaphors for writing—awareness, focus, direction, those instincts...

And the most "perfect" we can aim for is doing well most often and embracing our quirks and faux pax when they happen. Fantastic post, Pat. Thank you!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Emma, we most fear failing at the things that matter deeply to us. Push forward.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm glad I'm not alone, Diane.

Congrats on the debut of DON'T KNOW JACK.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
Yup, rollers. It's not a good look.

So you can't ice skake, ski and run. YOU can ice fish!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, August,
Now I want to write a driving-as-metaphor-for-writing blog post.

I'll work at embracing my quirks and faux pas. New motto: Have you hugged your mistake today?

Alicia Street said...

A wise and true post, Pat! And so hard to accept in our competitive, demanding society.

Kara said...

Gosh, I do this too. When I taught I was great at encouragement, so why is it so hard for us to encourage ourselves? I'm not sure, but I don't get a lot of things. Social networking frustrates me. I'm still learning about hashtags, retweets, etc and feel so behind and am pretty sure half the time I do it wrong. And I'm really good at starting a story and not finishing it for fear of failure. But, I'm determined to get it right some day:)