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January 25th, 2021
There’s an ideal and a hope that mistakes can be crept up on, tip-toed around, and altogether avoided if only the right degree of caution is exercised. For some things, very larger things, this sort of ideal is a necessity. It would be an irreversible mistake if we had recklessly stumbled into nuclear war, as it seems we’ve come very close to several times over the years. Many AI researchers also believe that Artificial Intelligence is also an area that poses great potential harm, meriting a need to move slowly and carefully along the path of progress. But on an individual level, the risk and downside of making a mistake is rarely if ever of such a magnitude, even relatively speaking.
The majority of our hesitation and fear of mistakes probably arises from a school system which was singularly focused on mistakes which detracted from a perfect score. The straight-A student is essentially a student who made no mistakes, no missteps.
As impressive as that feat might be in the eye of say - college admission bureaucrats, there is very little real world utility in the perfect score. The most capable and successful are those who can squeeze every last bit of insight from a mistake - not success. The ability to reapply with a more nuanced understanding is the key to a great deal of progress and personal success.
A large concern with avoiding mistakes likely just generates a kind of procrastination. It’s an excuse bred by a hammered-in notion of preparing for the test, but outside of school, the best things we can accomplish are additive: they are things we build, be it companies, a piece of writing, a house, a friendship, a career, a reputation or any variety of project.
Life is much more like the blank page as opposed to the test with predesigned answers. The mistakes made while adding to the blank page contain the real jewels of learning, because a mistake encapsulates a blindspot - an area where our idea of the world is flawed. The mistake in real time is an opportunity to zero in on this flaw and fix it, making our measure of the world a bit richer, a bit more nuanced.
Navigating mistakes isn’t so much about avoiding them at all costs but using them as places to pivot, like sign posts that point towards a better direction.