Creative Freedom: The Gift of Making Mistakes

It’s funny how the little things that make up our daily routines can teach us a lot about ourselves. Last week I purchased a bunch of roses for our dining room table, went home to my kitchen, and prepared to arrange them in a vase. As I pruned the leaves I thought about trying something new. I wanted to experiment with a different type of arrangement that required me to cut the stems very short. As I was about to cut the first rose, I stopped, concerned that by losing so much of the stem I would ruin any chance of using the flowers if my idea didn’t work. The minute I noticed my hesitation, a question popped into my head: “If you can’t risk making a mistake, how will you ever create anything new?”

In that moment the simple act of arranging flowers became a metaphor for how a fear of making mistakes can stifle our creativity. Rather than try something new, it’s easier to operate within a comfort zone – one that guarantees success. I’m sure you know what I mean. Maybe you’re an artist who’s hesitant to use a new medium because you’re afraid that no one will like it (or that you won’t like it). Or, you might be a business owner who never expands your offerings because you’re afraid that no one will buy your new product or service.

My experience with the flowers prompted me to ask others how a fear of making mistakes prevents them from taking creative risks and enjoying their lives. See if you can identify with any of the following examples.

  • I keep procrastinating about painting my bedroom a new color because I’m afraid of choosing the wrong shade.
  • I’d like to take a ballroom dancing class but, because I expect myself to master something immediately, I avoid the anxiety of learning something new.
  • I’ve had a fantasy of cutting my hair short for more than three years but I keep holding off because I might regret it.
  • I recently met a guy I really liked (and who seemed to like me). I wanted to ask him out but I was too afraid that I may have misread his signals so I chickened out and missed my chance.
  • I’m nervous about leaving my cluttered, cramped apartment for something bigger because I may not feel comfortable in a new place.
  • I’ve been making home decorations for years and have fantasized about doing it for a living, but I’m too afraid to fail.

It’s sad to hear about how our fear of making mistakes can prevent us from expressing our creativity and fully living our lives. Years ago, when I realized I had this problem I decided to take a contrarian approach. I put a big sign on my office wall that said: “Go Ahead, Make Mistakes,” and proceeded to take my own advice. I allowed myself to try new things even though I was wary of what might happen. I took risks with my business. And, I challenged myself to not give in to the part of me that wanted to play it safe. The good news is: I’m still here to talk about it.

While it’s prudent to plan for worst-case scenarios, the truth is that you will make mistakes. You will make a wrong decision. You will experience regret. And you’ll live to talk about it, too. The trick is to surround yourself with people who will support you either way. So, go ahead. Practice making mistakes! Start with our “Take Action Challenge” below.

Take Action Challenge

Stop for a moment and think about one thing you’ve wanted to do for a while. Maybe you’ve wanted to teach a workshop, start a new garden in the front yard, make an outfit from scratch, or write an article for your local paper. Then, once you have something in mind, do one thing today to move forward with this plan. Worry less about success and more about dealing effectively with the stress of potential failure. Trust me, when you teach yourself to get comfortable with making mistakes, a whole new world will open up for you!

Dog lovers get ready!  This week’s video showcases a remarkable talent .  Check it out here.

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Cheryl Richardson

Cheryl Richardson is the author of The New York Times bestselling books, Take Time for Your Life, Life Makeovers, Stand Up for Your Life, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace and her new book The Art of Extreme Self Care. She was the first president of the International Coach Federation and holds one of their first Master Certified Coach credentials.

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