Getting Knocked Down

One of the harder parts about making stuff for other people is dealing with the inevitability of making mistakes. Despite being identified as a “professional” or an “expert”—two terms I believe to be fraudulent in themselves—I make plenty of mistakes. Big ones, little ones, and everything in between.

The thing about mistakes is that making them and having them acknowledged by others can be pretty teeth grinding. There’s nothing quite like having someone say “this is wrong” to you. It’s hard, because we acknowledge it as a failure; however small. The sharper the words used by the person making the accusation, the worse it stings.

Dealing with this is a skill you have to develop over time, with practice. The trick—if there is one—is to not beat yourself up. It’s so easy to let mistakes eat away at you. The reality, though, is that perfection doesn’t exist. Everything you do, everything you make, will have some imperfection; some error. Accepting this is the antidote.

Recently this tendency toward letting mistakes eat at us has been coined as “impostor syndrome.” Notice the language. Syndrome. Disease. The notion of there being some problem with ourselves. Instead of simply accepting our errors, we deflect them and bundle them up in this term that further denigrates what we do and who we believe ourselves to “be.” We assume that we have a sickness, with the symptom being that we believe we’re an impostor. Nonsense. Everyone is an impostor! Nobody on this planet knows anything for sure, even the person we mentioned earlier who points out our mistakes.

When we get knocked down by a mistake, we need to accept that it’s ok. Think back to when you were a little kid, running down the street with untied laces, eventually meeting the concrete like a gust of wind. When we were younger, we’d wail and seek comfort from the nearest adult. As we grew up, we learned to get up, dust ourselves off, and let that embarrassment of tripping slowly fade away. We can do the same with mistakes.

You have to plan on falling over sometimes, and instead of working to avoid it, get better at recovering. The better you get at recovering, the less the fall stings. Learn to be okay with falling on your ass every once in awhile and dusting off the embarrassment that it brings in tow. It’s going to happen. Learn to embrace it. Confront your mistakes, correct them if you can, and move on. No matter what, you—and the things you make—will always be imperfect.