We Are Only as Good as the Mistakes We Allow Ourselves to Make

Last week, I was sitting in the bleachers during the intermission of one of my son’s hockey games, talking with the team’s skating coach. She is the real deal. She used to coach in the National Hockey League: the pros.

She said that she wanted our boys to shoot more on the power play– a common coaching refrain– and specifically, she wanted them to try one particular shot.

But, she said, they were all afraid to do it, to take the shot and risk losing possession, so they passed the puck instead.

My son signed a contract with a Junior Hockey team this year– in the NA3-EHL for those of you who know and care. This is how most hockey players make it onto college teams. The players are mostly 18-20 years old, and they are good. Some of them are really good.

But that doesn’t stop them from being afraid.

From being limited by their fear of making a mistake.

Fear really can be a good ally. There are some mistakes that you just don’t ever want to make.

But there is a fine line between maximum effort and a mistake. And I believe that we, as parents and educators, need to encourage, allow–celebrate!– mistakes more. Yes. I am pointing a big accusatory finger at our school system, where everything is graded and god forbid anyone do something that isn’t “up to standard.”

But the truth about learning is that there is always a period when we are awkward in applying a new skill or concept. When we need to explore what works– and what doesn’t.

When our children were little, we used to pass the time on road trips by telling stories and jokes. When my son was a toddler, he decided to join in with “knock-knock” jokes.

“Knock, knock,” he’d say.

“Who’s there?” we’d answer.

“Parrot.”

“Parrot who?”

“Parrot DUMPTRUCK! Bwaaa ha ha haaaa!”

And we laughed, too, because it was funny how not-funny it was.

He totally did not get it. The point of the joke was lost on him. No grasp of anything but the most basic rhythm and pacing.

But.

The essence of comedy isn’t words. It’s rhythm and pacing. I know this because when my husband tells a joke, everyone is rolling on the floor, and when I tell the same joke–same words– well, we’ll just be generous and say it doesn’t work out as well.

So our son had a hold on one piece of the process, but it would be years of practice before he would finally grasp the play on words. And we laughed at every single one of his jokes. The flops. The ones that almost worked, and then the ones that were successful zingers.

Can you imagine if he had been graded on his early performance? If he had been held to a standard that someone somewhere decided was representative of the entire population of two year olds?

OK– deep breaths. This is not about standards. Not. About. Standards.

No. It’s about mistakes.

If even the guys who are really good at what they do are afraid of messing up– are afraid that they CAN’T AFFORD to mess up, we have a problem with how we respond to mistakes.

What if we considered a mistake as an effort needing some refinement. Yeah, yeah. I know. Eventually, we need to see results. But I challenge you to find one mistake today–that you or someone else makes– and let it shine in the light of your approval. Just for a moment, before you go about “refining.”

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