Today, my son told me he had figured out how to never make a mistake again. His solution: just never try or do anything anymore. He said it with a smile, but I think he half wishes this was an option. Unfortunately, he seems to have inherited a personality quirk (defect?) from me, which is that we are both incredibly good at self-flagellation when we make mistakes.
To cite a minor example, sometimes I’ll dwell for a couple of days on a student’s question that I couldn’t answer in class. Or if I forget somebody’s name who I am definitely supposed to know, I will swear at myself under my breath far too many times, more than most people would. And those are just minor examples. It can be a problem, one that I wish I hadn’t passed along. Dammit (see?).
To reassure my son, he is actually on the same wavelength as Alain de Botton, one of the better known modern philosophers out there. And he’s not even 10 yet. Good for him.
In reality, we know this is not an option. Mistakes, trivial and major, are inevitable. We can minimize them by taking fewer risks, but there are costs to that as well, particularly living in fear of failure. The trick is probably to find some happy medium. Sometimes, life is a roller coaster of victories and defeats; other times it is a merry-go-round of safe routine. We need both.