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Trial and Error is a Gift

We are all imperfect.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

I note that some in society acknowledge this way less than others. Complete perfection is impossible, unnatural, yet many continue to strive for it. Whole industries support the desire for perfection.

In whose eyes?

Could it not be a natural and normal state for us to be imperfect?  For a person without flaws is hard to find. Imperfection comprises many a conversation topic over dinner, in thinly veiled complaints with a neighbour or chatting with a sympathetic friend, in the stories, books and academic circles. Just look at the sales of self-help books!

To strive to do better, to be better is an overarching wish. In raw, biological terms that drive is tied to survival. Trial and error, therefore, is a gift, a key to opening the door of knowledge, realisation and connection, the instrument to do better.

For in each clumsy attempt to do better, we do indeed learn something; we grow, we evolve. Even if we stumble again and again, we learn what doesn’t work, often despite our actions failing miserably time after time. A tenacious person falls seven times but gets up eight. For them, the inner drive to succeed is robust and unyielding, whilst others give in to apathy after the first failed attempt – their silver lining somewhat blackened.   

Mistakes can be motivating or can be soul-destroying and an excuse for chronic apathy. Some mistakes are hard to take provoking strong emotions. The emotions can be pervasive, triggering feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, anger and disappointment. We judge ourselves to have failed in some way, to have made a grave mistake, and we expected to do better.

Yet with each perceived failure, we do grow: armed with knowledge and better equipped next time a situation or problem arises. Intransigent folks might take longer to heed the subtleties of trial and error and so their journey becomes rocky, torturous and gruelling. They fling away or dismiss the gift of trial and error as if it’s irrelevant junk mail or a card belatedly received long after the day of celebration.

In that case, it may be worth revisting the words of Henry Van Dyke, who said, “Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul.”

We all begin life wanting to succeed, to achieve, to develop, to reach a level of contentment and surrounding environmental influences antagonise our conscience with self-admonishment or self-criticism.

Why are we so hard on ourselves when mistakes can be a gift, a learning process?

Trial and error is part of that journey. Understanding that might just be a liberating step forward in the narrative of life.

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85 thoughts on “Trial and Error is a Gift”

    1. There may be a few naturally talented individuals who do fluke a skill to perfection, but this is definitely not the majority! I have learned to embrace mistakes as a good thing, albeit embarrassing at times. But now I recognize their value in learning.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Aletta. Practice makes perfect or closer to perfect? Some give up thinking that it is not good to hit your head against a brick wall. I guess we all should know our limitations too, and in hitting the brick wall, know that our approach to problem-solving has to change, or we have to understand the situation from a different angle. Not always easy to do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Making errors and mistakes is the only way people can truly grow and improve themselves. Anyone who says they never make mistakes (and I’ve met a few) either are in denial or just plain idiots. As shy as I grew up, lacking self-confidence and self-esteem, and as introverted as I still am, I keep getting back up after having been knocked down (and around) many times throughout my life. If some of us didn’t at least try, humanity would have died out millennia ago!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Indeed, Alejandro. Resilience, persistence and tenacity have allowed our species (to put it bluntly) to continue and evolve as we have. It doesn’t allow for ridiculously destructive things such as war, which is more to do with ego, power and greed than trial and error.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. So joyful a feeling when a difficult problem is finally mastered. The sense of achievement a real reward! But the reward comes from the struggle and the personal growth arising from the journey.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Some parents of today seem to forget that, M-R. Stressed out overworked parents of today seem to think children are there for their enjoyment and not part of their responsibility to raise a decent future adult that functions well in society. Schools are apparently expected to teach children everything…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well written Amanda.
    Thought provoking indeed.
    Learning from failures to become a better person is well accepted theory and can be practiced.
    But becoming ‘perfect’ at any cost?
    And causing nuisance to dear and near?
    “Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…but merely to be lived. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically lived.” Mandy Hale
    Everybody expects the rest to be perfect.
    Is it possible?
    This is double standard.
    As you rightly put it industries strive for perfection.
    you must be knowing the story of popularity of ‘fairness cream’ in Asian and African countries.
    “We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies – it is the first law of nature.” Voltaire
    Who is listening to Voltaire?
    Love Henry Van Dyke’s quote.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Voltaire was perceptive Ptp. One of our purposes is to live, to rise above our challenges, to live and to live, despite imperfection. I have not heard Mandy Hale’s quote before so thanks for introducing me. Does she have more wise words?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. We don’t even like perfection, it’s dull. If you seek perfection then you won’t enjoy travelling the world, because it’s finding different ways of living which make travel stimulating. One of the core reasons that we explore other cultures is because we want things to be different when we travel, not something aiming for perfection when the end result of that is conformity. Bring on the imperfections, anything which is perfect is second best!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Excellent point about perfection being tinged with conformity. I do agree that in travel we look and enjoy difference. We do indeed travel in order to see something different. If it was all the same what would be the purpose of travelling. Sometimes I come across tourists who lament that the food is not the same in their travel destination, or they search out a McDonald’s in an exotic destination. People will talk differently, things will smell differently people will act differently in other countries. That is the gift of travel and to be expected. That is exactly what we came to see. Sometimes when I travel I see the same product in a shop on one side of the world as I do on the other. Globalization has meant we see globalised products everywhere. It is boring and sad that tradition or cultural peculiarities are no longer celebrated.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ Samuel Butler’s words are great ones to live by, but like most people, I’m my own worst enemy and give myself such a hard time every time I ‘fail’. Still, keep on trying, eh …?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Fail again, fail better,” that is an encouraging mantra that spurs a person to make another attempt. Sometimes we might need help to determine what we did wrong and then if we again fail, it will nevertheless be better in some way.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I think it is probably a combination of things as you say. When we are young, we model parental behaviour, emotional reactions and how things are done. This, on top of our already genetic predisposition. Then, as an adult, we pick up environmental influences from peers and others. Without a strong sense of self, anyone can be vulnerable to bullying and harassing comments without the emotional intelligence to handle the situations that inevitably crop up. Even successful folk are vulnerable, look at the recent episode with Will Smith’s wife’s reaction.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Due to many reasons, I learned to fear my mistakes. All the feelings that are attached to failing or an assumption of failing holding me captive. It is just recently that I have begun to seek freedom. Your post has come at a wonderful time, its inspiration and encouragement a wonderful help in the quest to embrace the imperfect in the quest to better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Rebecca and I am so glad that you visited today and that these words are meaningful for you. It happens with me too, I discover the words I need to read on another blog, or in a book. Fortuitous serendipity.
      Keep on embracing your mistakes as they are a wonderful learning tool.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amanda, I was told this story by the impacted person many moons ago. A man I met on the Board of Directors of a company I worked for was the first non-family member CEO of a regional manufacturing company. Early in his career, he chose a poor investment of US$10 million that failed. The Chairman of the Board came in and said, “I hired you to take risks like that.” He did add, “but try not to make a bad bet like that too often.” The point is the mistake was huge, but he kept his job and moved forward. Keith

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Woah. I can’ t imagine the burden of responsibility for such large investments. My small share portfolio stressed me out so much in the 87 crash that I got out.
      I did know of a corporate relative who stuffed up big time at the plant he managed. It cost the company a lot. He offered the owner his resignation the following morning. It was rejected. He has not made another mistake like that, since, and the company is booming.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Great point, Dorothy. Success doesn’t teach us a lot and the focus is on the pride or the accolade. Mistakes seem to involve more introspection, investigation and evaluation. Much better learning tools!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. A priest told me of a clerical meeting where the speaker demanded that all the sinners stand up. The priest remained seated. The speaker later accused him of arrogance, to which he replied that he was not a sinner pr se, but a saint who knew that he sinned. I like his attitude….if you know we have failed to live up to our ideals we can learn not to repeat the mistakes

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting. Hearing this story, I am inclined to say that the Priest was arrogant. But a saint who knew that he had sinned….. should he have stood anyway? I will have to think about that more. Was it because he had awareness of his sins? The rest of those who stood also had awareness of their sins.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. In your world, Ritish, there must be many individuals with very solid and high levels of self-esteem for they do not know the feeling of failure. Instead, you say they only see it as a learning tool. How nurturing is that?

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  8. I wish I had an answer about why we are [I am] so hard on myself when we/I make a mistake. I no longer strive for perfection, but I still sometimes feel like I blew it, could have done better– and that feeling rattles around inside me for days. BUT I do learn from mistakes so maybe that’s just my process?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like it could be your process of dealing with your own thoughts of failing to meet the standard you uphold for yourself, Ally. I also think it is a sign of a deeper thinker, checking as you said, that there was nothing you could have done better. It might be that inner drive to perfection, but also that inner drive to seek improvement and progress forward. Many corporate and academic techniques have an evaluative step in considering their achievements or work performances. This is similar! You were just evaluating! So don’t be too hard on yourself for that!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. A lovely sentiment in that movie clip, Martin. I have not seen the movie so it was a great way to explain your comment. Funny how you can always find one of life’s scenarios in the movies!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Good thoughts, good comments. I don’t want to just repeat everything as I sit way over here nodding along. I have a couple favorite quotes on failure, you are probably familiar with the first from Thomas Edison:

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

    You may or may not be familiar with the second:

    “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

    I see nothing wrong with failure. We not only learn something and find new ways to try – what is missing in Edison’s quotes is we also learn what we do not enjoy. Without getting too wordy, I think letting go of something that you don’t enjoy is not a failure. We give the most effort and passion to those things that have meaning and enjoyment for us. Trying is always good. Not giving up right away is usually good. Sticking with something just because you don’t want to “fail” seems unnecessary. Well, you know, except for passing required coursework.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. To be able to learn what we do not enjoy! To let go of something (except coursework), can be liberating, particularly if it is a hard slog mentally, physically or both. Mistakes are learning opportunities, but sometimes there is a point where it is a waste of time to continue, as nothing more can be learnt, or experienced from repeated failures that have no solution. Better to direct one’s energies elsewhere than to repeat the same mistake over and over. Once, in another life, I was a telemarketer – (I have to say one of the hardest jobs I have done) – it just wasn’t me. In that job I learnt that if a client said No thanks to the product, twice, it was useless to continue and try to convince them to buy. Not only did it border on harassment, it was a waste of one’s time as it was highly unlikely that person would change their mind. As it was a commission-based position, I was better off cold-calling another new client rather than badgering the person who had said no. A valuable lesson on when to walk away.

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  10. Some cultures acknowledge mistakes. One says: “I’m sorry. Won’t happen again.” Other cultures don’t. (No names). People don’t apologize for their mistakes and thus don’t or never learn. They can’t apologize because to admit a mistake or an error would wreck their self-esteem and self-image. As a result, they can’t learn from their own mistakes… Really bad.
    (Looking for bushboy now)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hadn’t thought it was a cultural concept but perhaps it is tied to some more than others. A much younger me had a harder time admitting mistakes and yes, poor self esteem. The older me wonders how I could have ever been like that and how I cannot pinpoint exactly when I embraced mistakes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Cultures are the sum of individual responses and vice versa… 😉 There is a wide range of individual responses inside any given culture. Additionally our own responses evolve with time. There are things I might have done – or thought – when I was 16 that I won’t do now. We are more bashful as teens that adults. (Now some people never learn and never change too! 😉)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Bashful – a great word to describe those adolescent feelings! But I have always been keen for more knowledge. Perhaps fundamentally it is a curiosity that drives that willingness to learn and in this way, embrace mistakes as lessons?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Keen is good. And how does one learn without making mistakes? Almost impossible. You ride horse? The bl..dy horse kicks you out of the saddle? Get back up.
            There was another… “phrase” I read on someone else’s blog, about martial arts. “Your opponent is your teacher, not your enemy…” (Learn from your opponents/enemies, right?)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ooh. That is a good one, Brian. I like that this suggestion, (of an opponent being someone from which there is something to learn), removes the element of personal grievances against the enemy and looks at the differences logically!!

              Liked by 2 people

              1. That was a very good learning from that post. I also remember an old competitor – very brilliant – in the Market research society meetings. We sometimes made alliances, sometimes clashed, but that was all right. One day I realized that he was taking a lot of notes. Then after a few meetings I realized that, while listening to what was under debate, he was writing and structuring what he was going to say… Very shrewd. (Needless to say I immediately adopted the technique…) 🤣

                Liked by 2 people

              2. Some of us think better when the words are written down. Me included. I see this on Parliamentary question time or political panel shows as well. Not a bad strategy.

                Liked by 2 people

  11. Perfectly said. I too believe I am not perfect and I will never be because I’m human like anybody else but what is crucial to know is that error is just an examination a test and you will fail at times , however, it is not the end of the world.

    There is still another day to try no need to be hard on myself like you said✔️

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  12. I love this! In a world so set on perfection, I’ve learned to embrace the imperfections and fails and use them as learning experiences. The comments were just as enlightening as the post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Welcome, Mandy!! The blog community who comment here are truly inspirational! I am indeed fortunate. Thank you for your feedback on my words. I love that these thoughts might help or be savoured by another person. Embracing perfectionism is never easy but if we regularly set this as an intention, it can happen! Changing an attitude towards a difficult emotion can be powerful.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very good points. I totally agree that the try-error paradigm is an undervalued natural gift 🎁 since it could no learning if it wasn’t the case. And yes, perfection is impossible while imperfection is so natural and necessary to get continous fuel to push us to learn regularly to keep improving ourselves till our death hour.

    The try-error faculty according to science and academic studies is innate property. It’s created whitin us since we get out from our mothers’s wombs. And that justify why children are so energetic and enthusiastic to learn new things. I’m sure you remember some of your little children or other’s ones keep asking a lot at their early years of childhood.

    And that brings me to talk about to an interesting book about neurology, written in French originally by The Algerian-French Author (Idriss Aberkane). It’s called Free up your Mind, originally ” libérez votre cerveau”. The book in a form of scientific essays has talked about many interesting topics like how to be zn expert in any field by spending 10,000 hours in studying it and also mentioned the core reason of learning which is the Trial Error paradigm, originally ” Essai Error”.

    Thanks for sharing this interesting article @forestwood

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