My mistakes make me laugh. I greet them as old friends. How do yours make you feel?
In another article this morning, I said, and I quote:
I’m a bit embarrassed by having made a mistake, but frequent readers know that I make many mistakes, so that my incremental embarrassment per mistake is pretty small.
I’ve been writing about what really happens when I program for years now, and I call the process “warts and all”, because I generally mention every mistake that I make along the way. Well, most of them. If they’re truly not interesting, I might skip them. If they’re at all notable even if quite typical, I mention them.
I’ve also done a lot of live programming, typically pairing with Chet. We even did a conference keynote where we programmed live and drew observations from our mistakes. We didn’t plan the mistakes: we were sure we’d make enough to draw lessons. In every live programming session, we made mistakes. I made mistakes.
So, for years, I have actually paid attention to my mistakes, trying to look each and every one in the eyes, and greet it, typically as an old friend that I’m seeing once again. I try to adjust my behavior to reduce the mistakes that I make, and to catch them when I do make them. I try to improve how I work, to better deal with the fact that I make mistakes all the time.
I suspect that I am not the only programmer who makes mistakes all the time, although I may be in the top echelons of mistake-makers. I suspect that you, yes you there in the back, that you make mistakes sometimes.
I remember that I used to think that my self-worth should come from being very smart, and thus making fewer mistakes than other people. As such, every mistake I made was a big concern to me, because I needed to be right all the time. And it was embarrassing, too, because people would see that I had made a mistake and point it out right there in public and everything.
Mistakes made me feel bad. I continued to make them, often got tense and made even more mistakes, and felt worse and worse.
Now, mistakes make me laugh. I laugh a bit ruefully, most times, although some mistakes are so, well, mistaken as to actually be funny. But they all make me shake my head and laugh.
Now I try to be the first person to catch my mistakes. I call them out to whomever is looking on, I call them out to myself. I look them in the eye, reflect upon them, decide what to do to avoid them or find them.
Mistakes no longer embarrass me. I see them as an opportunity for me to learn, and for those around me to learn as well. As such, while I still make plenty of mistakes, I also have developed habits that help me avoid some of them and catch more than I used to.
What are your feelings about your own mistakes, if you ever make any? Do they embarrass you? Or do you greet them as the old friends they are?