My Favorite Mistake

We’re instituting a new SPACIOUS feature — blogposts on “My Favorite Mistake.” We’ll be featuring disastrous or embarrassing things from time to time, in the hope that we can all remember it’s not only us who walk around with toilet paper trailing from our shoes or who commit social gaffes at important work events.

What’s your favorite mistake? Oh wait, you’ve never really favored your mistakes? Well, let’s change that.

Newsweek has a weekly column by that name (read about it here in Media Bistro’s Fishbowl LA) or read one of my favorite “My Favorite Mistake” columns about violinist Joshua Bell messing up in an international competition when he was twelve (and going on to take third prize).

I love this portion of the piece:

No one tells you what to do if you completely flop at the beginning of a performance. My teachers had never taught me, and I didn’t know the etiquette, but I think I did the right thing in the moment. Instead of just playing on, finishing the piece, and feeling lousy, I completely stopped. I turned to the audience and said, “I’d really like to start over.” I already felt like I’d lost the competition and the chance to do well, but I really wanted to try again.

It was a quick decision and could have been the worst performance after that because my confidence was down. I screwed up, and when you do something like that it can psychologically totally ruin your performance. But some-how it turned in the other direction. I got into this zone of feeling completely liberated and relaxed because I knew I had lost. I played the best I had ever played in my life. I felt like I couldn’t make a mistake. I was elated, and it could have been the worst day of my 12-year-old life.

So what’s your favorite mistake? I have a long litany of “dumb things I did as a kid” stories that my children still occasionally request; they include “the time I threw up on an American flag,” “the time I got my tongue stuck on the coils inside a refrigerator” (yes, old school), “the time I got stuck in a barbecue chimney for several hours,” “the time I …” well you get the idea.

And although I can regale people with such stories of idiocy, my favorite mistake would be something with a loftier outcome. I might have to say that one of my favorite days ever was a day full of mishaps and bizarre things. It wasn’t exactly my own mistake that caused the day’s perfect storm; it was mechanical failure… but it did show me the value of a day gone awry for helping us learn, grow, be stretched, and for challenging my notions of what the perfect day is. That was the day my car broke down on a cross-country road trip, in remote California, and I got to meet Jeff the tow-truck driver, whom I treated to Red Bull and doughnuts as he drove me to Reno, and I ended up being doused by a shower and a dripping roof among other calamities before having to surrender my car to the “we can’t fix it” gods for a month. Yet I count it as a hilariously wonderful day because it taught me so much; it was so bad I had to laugh. That’s a story for another day (perhaps Thursday?)… but it gets me thinking about mistakes and mishaps.

Let’s celebrate them, especially if they turn us to better things or help us give up on our perfectionistic tendencies and aspirations (as happened to Joshua Bell) so that we can perhaps truly soar without the weight of such expectations dragging us back to earth.

What’s your favorite mistake?  I’d like to hear about it.



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