Freedom to learn from failure and success

  • No learning: if you only allow yourself to act “perfectly” it’s a little like saying that you can’t go in the ocean unless you already know how to swim (Photograph submitted)

    No learning: if you only allow yourself to act “perfectly” it’s a little like saying that you can’t go in the ocean unless you already know how to swim (Photograph submitted)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison

Throughout my career I have been surrounded by people who mentored me to do things “the right way” and encouraged me to achieve as high a level of perfection as possible in all things.

In a business environment, where accuracy counts, this advice makes perfect sense. After all, in the work world you can’t submit contracts or spreadsheets with errors in them and expect things to work out. You need to be as precise as possible in your words and actions at all times.

It would be easy to assume, therefore, that the same would hold true when it comes to your personal development, and at first glance this too makes perfect sense. After all, no one ever wants to make mistakes, right?

Or do they?

When I really stop and think about this, I am challenged by the fact that some of the biggest advances in my personal development have occurred by making mistakes, analysing my actions or behaviour and learning from these experiences. Yes, there have been a few moments that I wish never to repeat, but would I be the person that I am now had I not had these experiences?

Maybe the real problem here lies not in the “making” of mistakes, but in the human tendency to view these imperfect actions as a bad thing.

After all, if you only allow yourself to act “perfectly” it’s a little like saying that you can’t go in the ocean unless you already know how to swim. Or that you can’t play the piano unless you already know how or tackle any new activity unless you are already an expert.

“But I don’t want to make a fool of myself!” you protest.

Perhaps not, but isn’t it a little dull only doing the same safe things day in and day out?

In the scientific world there is an experimental grey zone between right and wrong where new ideas can be safely tested and investigated. This theoretical space is used regularly to conduct experiments and make new discoveries without the risk of looking foolish. The only rules are that your experiments be planned logically, results analysed, lessons learnt — and that you keep trying over and over again.

Why then, are we so reluctant to employ this purposeful experimentation to advance our own personal development?

Better yet, why are we so judgmental of those who do find the courage to step from the well-worn path in search of something new?

Would we not be better to encourage each other to reach as far as possible and pick each other up when we stumble instead of holding ourselves back as the clock races by?

What would happen if we granted each other the freedom to fail?

Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at, 538-8937 or

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Published Dec 17, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 17, 2019 at 8:17 am)

Freedom to learn from failure and success

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