What If You Make A Mistake?
The next time you stress out about creating something that should be fun until you have squeezed all the fun out of it, do yourself a favour and try to think of it as an experiment.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been a writer. Granted, not a copywriter — that would have been hard for seven-year-old me, but still. I’ve written poetry, short stories, and even a book that would probably be considered YA (bad) fiction these days. My favourite subjects were always languages, and I jumped at the opportunity to study abroad as soon as I graduated high school. To study what, you ask? Well, journalism, of course!
What started out as fun, however, slowly turned into a lot of worry and self-doubt in my twenties, especially after I got my first job in publishing. Every time I wrote something I knew would be read by many other people, I thought, ‘What if I make a mistake?’ Maybe I won’t be understandable to anyone but myself. Maybe a typo will tell everyone that I suck at this and therefore as a person. Maybe I’ll fail. Whatever that means…
Okay, let’s slow down.
Regardless of what we do, I think most of us are more or less constantly worried about being wrong, making mistakes, and being perceived as incompetent. As a copywriter, I worry mostly about my ability to craft a sentence that makes sense to the reader, and about not using ‘they’re’ and ‘their’ interchangeably — so far, so good! But in recent years, especially since I’ve started freelancing at the end of 2020, I’ve come to realise something.
I’ve never read a book, article, or Instagram caption (that’s an art, people) where I spotted a typo and thought, ‘What an idiot!’. I mean, sure, I spotted it… and then I kept reading, because I was more interested in what the person had to say and what I could learn from them than how many typos I could find in each paragraph.
The same goes for most other things (except, you know… surgeries. And cocktails.) There’s a reason it’s called human error. We’re only human and mistakes are to be expected. In my case, they say it’s always a good idea to have someone else proofread your work. So why should I feel so embarrassed? Don’t others feel the same way — that to err is human?
It turns out that we tend to be forgiving of others’ mistakes, but the same isn’t true of judging our own work. Failures (yes, I’m talking about that one typo) are hard for us to cope with because they’re related to our self-esteem. When we fail at something, we feel that we’ve failed at everything and will fail again and again — always and forever, in fact — because that’s who we are.
Does that sound wrong? That’s because it is wrong. There isn’t one person out there who never fails. Not one. Unless they do nothing at all. (But then aren’t they failing at using their talents and maximising their potential?) Failure teaches you to be humble and pay attention. Plus, the more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed. Let me explain…
People create when they’re encouraged to continue iterating on past attempts that failed. When we laugh at them or make failure unsafe for them, we contribute to a culture where people can’t and won’t create new things. Creativity takes courage, a certain degree of trust, and psychological safety. To create something, you have to experiment, and part of experimenting is… failure!
And whether they make it big or go home (which is just as good — home is where the pets are), working on something they are passionate about brings people joy, meaning and satisfaction. If you think about it, success really is a bonus! Why would you take that away from someone just because they made a mistake? You wouldn’t do that, would you? Then don’t do that to yourself either.
Ask yourself: what’s the worst case scenario if you fail at something? You don’t hit your goal and you feel bad about it, right? But that’s exactly where you are right now. Not hitting your goal, and feeling bad about it! The real worst-case scenario is missing out on the best-case scenario, the one where you hit your goal and have fun. When you put it this way, failure is guaranteed… if you play it safe!
To make things even better, I’ll let you in on a secret: we don’t really want your work to be perfect at all. Perfect is cold, intimidating, and impossible to relate to. I’ll take a piece of work that speaks human over a ‘perfect’ one any day. What can you tell me that only you can? I’m listening, and I don’t care how you phrase it, as long as it makes me feel something. So relax. It really is the intention that counts.
The next time you stress out about creating something that should be fun until you have squeezed all the fun out of it, do yourself a favour and try to think of it as an experiment. After all, everything is a refinement of what it was in the beginning. No one looks at their first draft and thinks, ‘Genius!’ for the rest of time. Brands get rebranded, products change based on feedback, experiences evolve with technology.
Your work will evolve, too. You’ve just got to keep putting it out there, keep testing it, keep refining it. Keep experimenting. And, hey — keep having fun with it, too. That may or may not be the most important thing!
Until next time,
JOCstudio’s note. With the guest creators’ new series on our website, we hope to build a safe space for creatives to share their very personal experiences in the professional environment. Let’s talk about inclusivity, diversity, and equity. How’s your workplace culture doing?
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