Have you ever heard people say, “Don’t be defined by your mistakes?” The idea behind it is to encourage you to forgive yourself for your misdeeds and see yourself as a good-enough person.
At first glance, I would agree with this sentiment and have found it useful myself. Forgiveness is key to moving on from mistakes and softening that harsh, punishing inner critic.
But one day I thought about it further, and the more I thought about it, the more I asked myself, “Well, then, what does define a person?" What else could possibly define one's unique individuality other than their mistakes? Creative people know this well. When practicing any craft, mistakes are what deviate from the standard and consequently innovate its form. Mistakes are what lead to artistic brilliance that cannot be obtained in any other way. And you can be sure that an artist will take credit for their mistakes.
It’s just that when it comes to activities where real risk and loss are involved, we have an automatic inclination to run from our mistakes and say “That’s Not-Me”. The Not-Me is often described like an alien possessing your soul, the dark “force", that condemns you to take the fall for actions beyond your control. This is not a peaceful relationship to have with yourself, having to vigilantly avoid making errors everywhere you go. In subtle forms, mistakes are like an irritating bug that you quickly flick away. “It was just a mistake. Forget about it.”
True, a mistake is just a mistake…but it’s not so easy to forget about it. Because the way we interpret mistakes and their subsequent effects on our lives are much more compelling to us. I find that often times, mistakes are made when we are too afraid of making a difficult choice. They serve as a wake up call, a motivating voice inside that forces you to make some sort of change that you are consciously resisting. If we miss these uncanny signals the first time around, the voice will get louder, and so will the mistakes.
Mistakes should not be ignored, but instead embraced for personal growth. What would happen if we paid close attention to our mistakes, just as an artist would? Even further, put yourself in uncomfortable situations where you are bound to make mistakes, and see what happens.
Let yourself be defined by your mistakes, and see who you become.
PS: And no, you cannot try to purposely “make mistakes,” for you know it doesn't work that way!