Are Mistakes Okay?

Lisa Schwaller
3 min readSep 27, 2022
Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

Are mistakes okay?

Answer with your gut, not the motivational speaker’s response to “fail your way to success.”

Is it okay to make mistakes?

In my culture, both the broader culture and the subculture that was my extended family, mistakes were super, really totally not okay.

They meant you f’ed up and should have planned better and should have been paying more attention.

Failure was not an option.

Failure was the catalyst for punishment. And that punishment might be verbal shaming or worse.

I learned that mistakes were not okay and worked really, really hard to avoid them.

In school, mistakes cost you the highest prizes and tiers of acceptance.

In friendships, mistakes cost you socially.

At work, mistakes can be the source of a lot of meetings to discuss why mistakes were made.

Who dropped the ball?

For people of marginalized identities, mistakes carry even more weight.

Are mistakes okay?

Of course not, not for many people.

They are a source of guilt, shame, sadness and regret among other things.

I see this constantly in my coaching practice and, yes, in myself.

We spin in mental circles trying to “get it right,” whatever that means.

If I have information, I’ll choose the right answer and avoid a mistake.

If I take time to decide, I’ll choose the right option and avoid a mistake.

If I get something wrong, the outcome of that decision will weigh deeply in my heart and become part of my character.

Good, responsible people get things right.


Have you lived your life before?

How are we supposed to avoid mistakes?

I mean…really?

It’s one thing to get an incorrect answer to a math test question. The stakes might be considered low in that situation.

It’s another to try to decide what job will suit us best when we’ve never applied our skills in that particular environment before. Will taking that job be a mistake?

There is literally only one way to find out most things in our life…to just do them.

As my kids have grown and the longer I’ve been a coach, the more my attitude is shifting towards the concept of mistakes.

We think that pressure to avoid making mistakes will result in fewer disruptions to our lives.

And it means that a lot of people learn to think and act small instead of from self-confidence and experimentation.

Innovation is built on a mountain of mistakes. Inaccuracies. Failures.

I think that’s why so many people retreat to social media, TV or even learning. Those activities are a beautiful way to avoid trying something we might not be good at doing and all that messy emotional baggage of making mistakes.

This year I’ve been working on deconditioning my reactions to feedback.

I’ve been practicing being okay with errors.

First, most errors or mistakes are a matter of perspective and interpretation. There is little in life that’s truly right or wrong.

Second, when I react with shame or defensiveness, I expend energy that could be used more productively. I shrink. Frankly, for me, I see how my reaction is out of proportion to the stimulus. So if someone points something out, I can say, “Okay. Thanks. I’ll look into it.” without making their words mean anything about who I am as a person.

Do you want less stress in your life? More fun?

Embrace mistakes, yours and others. It’s part of the human experience.

Try to see the lesson and humanity when something doesn’t go as expected.

Most people don’t wake up in the morning saying, “Awesome, I can’t wait to screw up today!”

Mistakes are made by humans.

And, yes, we’re all human.

Consider your relationship with the concept of “mistakes.” Is there anything you’d want to choose differently for yourself?

P.S. I invite you to fall in love with the “Less Stress, More Fun” podcast. Subscribe today! Each week’s episodes offer smart, fun ideas to reduce stress and boost your sense of playfulness.