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If You Don’t Want to Make Any Mistakes, Don’t Take Any Risks

Big Mistakes Rubber
Big Mistakes Rubber

Big Mistakes Rubber – available at most good stationers

You probably have one in a drawer somewhere – one of those ‘Big Mistakes’ rubbers (or erasers, if you’re reading this on the other side of the pond).

Although clearly a joke item, I imagine the ‘Big Mistakes’ rubber to have been created by someone who was tapping into the common acceptance that most of us hate making mistakes – that mistakes are wrong and that the person who makes mistakes is useless. So get the big rubber out, remove all traces of the mistake and pretend it never happened.

How wrong and how mistaken that is.

And how short-sighted we are if we believe that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs.

 

RISK

To my simple mind, there are two types of mistakes (at least in the context of this post).

There is the mistake made through foolish or careless error – such as stepping into the road without looking out for traffic – and there is the mistake made as a result of trying to do something new or difficult. The former should have been anticipated: we learn road safety for a reason. The latter is unavoidable – you cannot know what mistakes you are going to make when you try something new until you try something new.

And that’s where risk comes in: if you don’t want to make mistakes, don’t take any risks. And some people live like that. Pity.

 

DARE

Helen Keller famously said,

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’

And Albert Einstein is supposed to have said words along the line of,

‘The person who never makes mistakes never makes anything.’

I don’t think any of us truly gets rid of the fear and uncertainty we face when taking a risk but we learn to manage it because we know that, given the choice, we’d rather take the risk and hope for success than take no risks and achieve nothing. Risk is something we have to learn to manage – like fear, doubt and disappointment. We learn to take calculated risks – informed by judgement and experience. Blindly taking risks is another thing altogether and best avoided if the consequences are too painful to bear thinking about. Healthy risk is knowing and accepting the consequences of failure.

 

LEARN

A child climbing on an adventure playground is taking a risk: he or she could fall but the anticipation of enjoyment through play far outweighs any notion of the likelihood of falling. If children considered every risk not worth taking, we’d have a lot of unused playgrounds around the country. Children learn risk naturally and its associated fear through play.

A fellow blogger describes his young daughter’s experience:

Amélie recently started French lessons. There is no trace of fear about this new activity. She does not seem worried at the prospect of not being good at languages, or getting it wrong. In all other aspects of her day to day life, if she makes a mistake and it is pointed out to her, she simply notes the error, correction and moves on. It is really simple. Making a mistake does not make her feel stupid or less happy, she just learns.

Coming from an education background and having watched many children learn, I know full well that this is not always the case and, in some instances, it is more the experience of the minority. Many children (and adults) are appalled at the idea of making mistakes and have not yet learnt that some of the biggest lessons in life come from the biggest mistakes we make.

 

EXPLORE

I was laughing with my teenage daughter the other day as she was recounting the crazy things she and her friend do on the way to and from school just because… it’s fun. Our conversation moved on to the experimental behaviour of teenagers and young adults exploring their world as if it is one big adventure and the risks they take in the process. Although it is entirely natural to explore and I encourage risk-taking, some of these young people get themselves into serious trouble – not because they aren’t aware of the risks but because they’ve not received or taken advice on ‘educated risk’.

 

SUCCESS

I applaud risk-taking – but not at the expense of safety. As a teenager myself, I took what I consider now to be huge risks, often embarrassing myself in the process, but I had been sufficiently well-educated to know which risks just weren’t worth taking.  I probably wouldn’t take those kinds of risks today but young people learn about their world, other people in it, their limitations and the limitations of others when they take risks. Risk-taking is essential to growth, development and success.

In fact, someone even suggested that ‘success’ is spelt R-I-S-K.

So let’s encourage our children and young people to take healthy risks but to prep them beforehand – not with fear, but with knowledge – and then trust in their capacity to apply common sense and learn from their mistakes.

The world will be all the better for the mistakes they make in their youth that help them to apply the lessons learned when they enter adulthood.

The person who never makes mistakes

2013-02-03-Mistakes-Word-CloudTeaching a Year 5 class recently, I encountered something I come across from time to time but, on this occasion, it seemed immovable, entrenched, stuck…

Quite simply, a child was making mistakes in her Maths work and had decided she couldn’t continue. In appearance, she was very well turned out, polite and articulate but, inside, she had disintegrated.

I had to spend some considerable time convincing her that a) mistakes were a normal part of human experience and that b) some of our best learning comes as a result of our mistakes. And I recounted Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted maxim:

The person who never makes mistakes never makes anything.

As well as quoting Albert, I often use Thomas Edison as an example. Famously, in attempting to construct a lightbulb that would stay on without burning out prematurely, he made a thousand that didn’t. Apparently, when asked about his perseverence with the light bulb project and his many failures, he responded pithily,

I found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.

Edison’s legendary tenacity is an inspiration and many children know his story – but to apply his lessons in their own lives requires more than the ability to retell a story or quote a phrase. Children need tenacity to be modelled and celebrated. They need to see mistakes as a living reality for their role models, teachers and heroes. They need to be taught how to recognise and experience the formidable learning acquired through making mistakes. This comes with compassionate teaching and mentoring, not through red crosses and repeat exercises.

Louis Pasteur, another iconic figure in the world of Science, recognised the value of mistakes:

Let  me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my  tenacity.

As an educator, I try to practise what I preach: I try to admit my mistakes, correct them and show what I have learned as a result. I believe that that philosophy makes us more credible as ones to learn from.

So, be tenacious and let’s teach tenacity, for it is the most certain source of power for learning and progress.