Sunday, March 18, 2012

"I hope you make mistakes," he said.





It was 10:30am on a Saturday morning and I was at university. There is something inherently wrong with that statement. It was raining, it was cold and I didn't even have any tutorials or exams on. What the hell was I doing? If there was something wrong with my first statement, what this guy said followed on from the theme of strangeness.
'I hope you make mistakes. Don't make the same ones over and over again, make different ones. I want you to have a portfolio of mistakes.'
A CEO from a large accounting firm giving us the first talk of the day he assured us of the value of failure, of risk - its huge Return On Investment. From a business point of view he assessed our assets which were, in no specific order, that we were Young, Beautiful and Anonymous. Really? It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately (no, not being 'young, beautiful, anonymous' but getting it wrong..and eventually, getting it right).


It was a cliche on a day full of cliches, like J. K Rowling's quote 'If you don't try, you fail by default'. It applies to everything. We are human and fallible, and once we accept it, it no longer becomes a weapon but a shield. Failing in relationships, in jobs, in interviews, in money, in life. It's going to happen sometime, somewhere (if it hasn't already). So why not go all out, fail spectacularly.


We have so many unknowns, so many question marks in our lives. The unwritten future is what makes it more exciting, more risky, more interesting. People ask me what I'm doing next year and I reply that I might go to South America, do a few internships, live over there and travel a bit. When? For how long? Really? The real truth is I don't know. I'm playing it by ear because I'm lucky enough that I can. I'm lucky enough that failure - on an epic scale even - is an option for me, for most of us.


My whole life has been incredibly privileged. I'm allowed to make mistakes, I have such a huge margin of error. Nobody is counting on me, I have no mouths to feed, I am nobody's bread winner. I am (for this last year at least) a student entitled to 50% off public transport and an array of other goodies. My university puts on workshops for us, gives us $3000 grants to volunteer in programs in India, conferences overseas, gets CEOs and non-for-profits to come to talk to us and perhaps best yet - free breakfasts on wednesdays!!!


And I can throw it all away and go and live as a goat-herder in Nepal if I want to (I don't know how long I'd last but I'm sure I could give it a go). I can fail, I can afford to. I have a disposable income and a group of people in my life who have already accepted the fact I am a bit of an odd ball. The allowance to try things, to make mistakes and to fail is a luxury that not many people have. I intend to use it to the best of my ability. I will do everything in my power to get to where I want to be, erring as many times as need be in the process.
'Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me... I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive.. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.'

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