Think Simple Now — a moment of clarity

What should I do with my life? Click here.

How Being Wrong is Part of Success

Photo by Nissor Abdourazakov
Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill

Before I moved from Minneapolis to New York City in 2006, I worked in the prepress production department of a family-owned advertising agency that is consistently listed as one of the best places to work in Minneapolis, for good reason. (OK, I will spill: It’s Periscope.)

We had a saying there that I still refer to whenever I need it (which is often): “It’s okaaaayyyy to be wrong!” When someone discovered that she had made a mistake, she would raise her hand in the air and say, “I was wrong; it’s okay to be wrong.”

There was no blame. There was no asking whose fault it was and firing them or making them feel bad. It was a culture of acceptance of mistakes.

This allowed us to learn from them and improve.

We talked about our mistakes — what they were, how they happened and how we could avoid making them in the future. We talked about how we could do better, and because we treated them as a learning opportunity instead of a shameful failure, our mistakes led to better work.

This has been a tough thing for me to learn.

You Must Be Perfect

My mom did not think it was okay to be wrong.

A few years back when I was visiting Minneapolis, she loaned me her second car so I wouldn’t have to rent one. I accidentally left one of my liquid ink pens uncapped on the passenger seat.

Fabric sucks the ink out of those things at light speed, and it left a spot about the size of a dime. When I mentioned it to Mom, she said, “It’s a good thing that wasn’t my new car, because if it were, I would be mad.”

I know my mom doesn’t think about this consciously, but the underlying message there is: I value my things more than you. It’s not okay to spill things, break things and otherwise screw up. You must do everything perfectly, or I will get mad.

As an adult, I can look at that message and consciously know that something is wrong with it.

As an adult, I can think of myself as a kid — still trying to figure out how the world works, how my own body works, still growing into my motor skills, my big chubby fingers, my still-developing brain — and realize that I was being subtly told that mistakes were not okay.

And this at a time when it was inevitable that I would make a billion of them.

A Never-Fail Strategy Fails

As an adult, I know that anger, properly, is a response to an injustice. Spilling ink on a car seat is not an injustice. I had not wronged my mom. It was an accident. It was not a big deal. Certainly not a cause for anger — even if it had been her brand new car.

But as a kid, all I knew to do was to avoid my mother’s anger by avoiding mistakes. I grew up into a girl who tried to never fail.

My klutziness, my messiness, any moment of carelessness — all were sources of shame. Not knowing how to do something and having to be taught, especially if it were something physically awkward — whether it was how to use chopsticks or how to shoot pool or how to bowl — could bring me to tears in seconds.

My “never failing” strategy didn’t work out so well. I still made mistakes, and yet I missed out on the lessons I could have learned, the ways I could improve, the successes I could have had, because I hid my face in shame rather than deal with them head on.

I’m still afraid that I’ll fail at the thing I love to do the most. I’m afraid it won’t have meaning in the real world — this writing thing I’m doing, just as my mother always predicted. That I will need that backup plan that I don’t really have.

Not Afraid Anymore

That fear has nearly paralyzed me for many years. It has kept me from sharing and connecting.

I’m finished with that now. I will not be afraid of spilled ink anymore.

I will spill it all over the place to get where I need to go. To this day my mother still tells me I need to be more careful, even though I am one of the most careful, detail-oriented people in the world.

I still forget things. I still misplace things. I still spill things. I still fail.

Some of the time.

But now I know: All of that is normal and necessary. All of that is life; it’s figuring things out; it’s being who you are. It’s learning.

I am not infallible, and I never will be, and I don’t need to be. Because it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to be wrong.

How has being wrong helped you succeed?

Before you go: please share this story on Facebook, RT on Twitter. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to receive email updates. Thank you for your support!
Connect with TSN Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest Instagram RSS
About the author

Rachael Ann Mare is a writer who helps creators stay motivated. At her blog,, you can download her free e-book for tips and tricks on living a more inspired life. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Love this article? Sign up for weekly updates!

Think Simple Now delivers weekly self-reflective, inspiring stories from real people. Join our empowering community by entering your email address below.

Your thoughts?

Leave a Comment

We’d love to hear them! Please share.

Think Simple Now, a moment of clarity © 2007-2015 Privacy Disclaimer
Back to top