Mistakes: Make Them.

MikeachimThe Everyday20 Comments

If at first you don’t succeed..you might be onto something here.

For a long while, my ability to attract misadventure and fall flat on my face whenever enough ground presented itself…well, it haunted me. Other people seemed to glide as if well-oiled through the machinations of society. I rattled, clunked and occasionally jammed.

In 1995 I went on my first archaeological excavation to West Sussex (only a few miles from where I was last month, in fact). I took the train – the first time I’d used the backwater trains south of London. In most cases, the carriage doors don’t have handles on the insides; you push the window down and reach through to turn the outer handle. I didn’t know this.

The train stopped. I pawed at the door like a trapped animal. Since nobody watching me could work out what I was doing, nobody stepped in to help. After a while, the train started rolling, and at precisely the point it began to move too fast to jump off it, I realised I needed to open  the window to get out. I pulled it down and shouted “HELP” at the English countryside. When I turned round, a backpacker was laid on the floor, laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

A few hours later, at the excavation site, I discovered I should have brought a welded hard steel (WHS) 4″ trowel, like this:

Instead, I pulled out one of these:

The archaeology students I’d just befriended all fell to the floor and wept openly.

This was my one and only chance to make a good impression. And I’d fluffed it.


What happened next was what always happens next, in a pattern I hadn’t yet recognised but I’ve since come to associate with most of the events in my life. I became “the guy [that did something fantastically stupid]”  – in this case, “the guy with the big-ass trowel”. My mistake hadn’t just dissipated into thin air, in the way I’d wanted to myself when I realised what a fool I’d been.

It had defined me.

Be remarkable, say personal branding gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk. Well, I am remarkable. I’m remarkably disaster-prone. My recent trip to Austria started with enough stress to put grey hairs in my beard. (I say that I grew a beard last week to compare with the one I grew 6 months ago, and it appears I’m turning into a badger). I’ve been like this for my entire adult life – and nowadays, that’s a long time. And it’s almost always self-inflicted. My friend Jodi Ettenberg has a problem with birds shitting on her. I have a problem with me shitting on me.

(Not literally – or this story would have been posted here).

However, you may have noticed how unconcerned I am at all this self-sabotage. I honestly don’t care. Take a look at this blog’s subtitle. Does that sound the work of someone ashamed of what a walking disaster he is? Ain’t so.

In future posts I’m going to dig deep into the power of mistakes, the little-evangelized joy of protracted misfortune, and the way that everyone takes pity on the klutz in the room. (You want to break the ice with people on the road, right? Then channel your inner numpty. Prove you’re a human in the most mortifying way possible, and once they’ve picked themselves up off the floor where they’ve been laying laughing at you, you’ll have a friend for life).

This is the tip of a huge iceberg, waiting to bang a hole in the side of your dignity. My advice? Sail straight at it – full speed ahead.

Mistakes are medals.

Aim to become highly decorated.

Images: Kurt Thomas Hunt, Electricians Direct and Jeffrey Beall.