I don't like making mistakes. In fact, I think I dislike it more than most people.
Yet, in any discipline that includes new and novel and pioneering things, mistakes must be made. This is not a good thing, per se. But it's not a bad thing either. It's just a thing.
Embarrassment is something else entirely. The vast majority of mistakes won't be noticed by anyone else, but embarrassment is when you do something that you don't like how it reflects on you to other people.
While most mistakes can be fixed and then mostly shrugged off, I think embarrassment cuts people much deeper. In fact, I've heard plenty of anecdotes of a person getting embarrassed the first time they tried to do something, and then not trying again for a few years. Or quitting entirely, even.
Yet, I think if you're doing something important at a reasonably quick pace, there will be embarrassment from time to time. The good news is that a lot of embarrassing moments don't actually have long term negative consequences, and these events become funny stories later. And being willing to suffer through mistakes and embarrassment leads to lots of success.
For about two months back in 2006, at the end of the day I reflected on all the mistakes I made and jotted down some notes. I think I'm going to start doing that again, celebrating mistakes and errors and embarrassing situations. I think if I keep a little journal of this for even just a week or two, it'll be a lot of fun to look back on in the near future.
Question from a reader -
Hi Sebastian, a question. I'd like to know how you came to be so... gracious. I've noticed that not only do you preach for others to spread gratitude, but you really do go over-the-top with it. It's a bit unbelieveable at times. But I have a good friend who is always very glad to see me (and everyone else). We aren't close anymore, but I always feel we are. I get the feeling you're similarly genuine. How did that come to be? Have you always been that way? I've been trying to be more thankful, but I don't want it to come off as meaningless as a forced plastic smile.
Well, first, that email totally made my day. Thank you.
Before I answer, I've got to pose a hypothetical question to you. Trust me, it's relevant:
Do you think it's more virtuous to do $5,000 worth of good for someone and get $0 in return, or to do $10,000 worth of good for someone and get $2,000 in return?
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Steve Jobs
If you're scared of doing anything, ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen if all goes wrong. Then compare that scenario to death. I bet you it's trivial in comparison.
Let's say you want to quit your job, start a business and follow your passion. What's the worst thing that could possibly happen?
Well, your project could fail, you could waste a bunch of money, and perhaps get into some debt if you're foolish about it. You would also gain invaluable experience. And you would have to get a new job, which could either be better or worse.
Now how does that compare to the destiny we all share? If you keep in mind that you're going to be dead soon, it's really not that big of a deal to risk your job security.