The Value of Mistakes

My friend works for an American company and observed that her Yankee counterparts are “terrified of making mistakes.”

How do you figure? I asked. Shit, look at Iraq. Then I thought about it. The American government is a dog-and-pony show of what not to do when left in charge but ordinary citizens? Different story.

America is, after all, the land where second place is first loser; where nobody remembers the runners-up, etc. As with all rules, these tropes apply disproportionately to the disempowered. Lives of the rich and powerful have second acts but as an average working man or woman you have one (very slender) chance. Drop that brass ring brother, or sister, and you’re off the merry-go-round. Especially in this economy.

Paradoxically, this mitigates against accomplishment. People who are petrified of making mistakes underperform. If you’re afraid of screwing up you play it safe, colour within the lines and even your thoughts turn to a mush of clichés. Fear fosters conservatism, stunts ambition and inhibits action. Wanting to get things right is an admirable impulse but it is more important to be willing to take risks.

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