My friend Sonya recently asked me what I’m most proud of in my life. I told her I’d need to think about that one. We had been discussing things like running long races and walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago–which was actually what we were doing when she asked me that question–but I didn’t think myresponse would have anything to do with physical accomplishments.
After a couple days, the answer became clear.
I’m most proud of learning to be willing to make mistakes.
I’ve spent much of my life doing things I think will impress people. The flip side to that means that I avoided doing things that might subject me to ridicule, judgment, or criticism. I learned to play things safe. Which led to my being a relatively unhappy and unfulfilled human.
My growth stagnated somewhere along the way, maybe 7 or 8 years ago.
I think I only started growing again as a person once I became willing to take chances on things that might make me look stupid, foolish, naive, or silly to other people. Or even to the little critic who has resided in my head as long as I can remember.
My thought process when deciding whether to do something tended to consist of, Could this make me look bad?
If not, proceed. If bad, abort!
Now it’s more like, Does this present the opportunity for me to learn something new about myself, others, or the world?
If yes, then I’m much more likely to be interested in pursuing it. Although the fact that an experience or idea is new to me means, by definition, that I haven’t spent much time with it. Which means I don’t know much of anything about it. Which means I could look stupid.
Embracing that reality forces me to adopt a childlike approach to the world. I have to ask questions about things that other people already know the answers to. I have to trust other people not to lead me astray or take advantage of my cluelessness.
The first step toward learning something new is to acknowledge that you don’t know it already.
Then try, recognizing that you’ll probably do it wrong the first time. Maybe many times.
But this keeps the world expanding for me, the seeking out new experiences. And that keeps me in a happier, healthier headspace. Most of the amazing things in my life today, the things that provoke the most gratitude, are the direct result of my doing something other than the safe bet.
I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
And I’m only willing to take risks because I’m more comfortable with the idea that I might end up looking ridiculous.