BARRETT: Screw up, it’s good for you

Tom Barrett

I used to be scared to death thinking about ever possibly making a mistake. As sad as it sounds, this fear used to govern far too many of my actions. I’m not even sure what I was thinking back then.

Here are a couple of embarrassing examples to show you what I mean:

In class, I was scared that if I raised my hand and spoke, then my answer would be the single most idiotic statement that anyone in the class had ever heard.

I thought that if I went to Guitar Center without really knowing what I was looking for, my secret lack of expertise would somehow be discovered, and I’d be laughed out of the store and banished for life.

Or I feared that if I had a sip of alcohol, I would somehow cast myself off a cliff into the dark abyss of alcoholism.

I know. It was all a bit silly.

These days, however, I feel like a much different person. Probably one of the biggest signs of my transition into young adulthood has been my realization that it is OK to make mistakes. Actually, I’ve learned that it is, in fact, very good for you to make mistakes.

Many of us are much like the younger me in that we’ll go to extreme lengths to rationalize our way out of trying to do something that we are not comfortable doing. We will convince ourselves that we’ll look stupid by pushing ourselves, or that pushing ourselves is just not worth the risk. We’ll stay inside our weakly fortified bubbles of comfort, unchallenged and unchanged.

Albert Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” For many of us, making a mistake seems like we have failed in some way – like we must have done something wrong. However, Einstein did not look at his mistakes this way. Rather, he saw them as learning experiences and as inevitable steps along the path of discovery, both scientific and creative. Mistakes were not something to be regretted but rather something to be accepted and understood.

Do not be fooled into thinking that Einstein’s lessons apply only to mathematics and science. His wisdom can be expanded to encompass all spheres of life. In music, musicians constantly have to try and master new techniques in order to take their playing to the next level. In the kitchen, chefs have to try new combinations of spices and flavors if they want to create a unique dish they can call their own.

In the past two issues, I wrote about moderation and morality. Even these two aspects of our lives require that we push our limits as we experience and examine our experience. Whether we’re talking about music, cooking or even morality, reaching new levels of expertise will undoubtedly require falling flat on our faces time and time again.

These falters, however, can only be considered failures if that’s what we choose to view them as. It’s important to remember that we also have the choice to view these shortcomings as outside-the-classroom educational experiences. Whatever we decide, however, it’s ultimately up to us.


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].