November 20, 2013 – Have you ever considered mistakes that you’ve made? Most people I’ve spoken with admit to having made “a mistake or two” in their lives. But how do they determine that they made a mistake? What criteria are used in making that determination?
More often than not, we deem an action a “mistake” when in retrospect we regret having taken the action. Hindsight being 20/20, we often recognize how the past action has present or future ramifications which would have been avoided had we taken a different action. In other words, we now see how that past action did not help us further our goals or that the action was not consistent with who we are or who we think ourselves to be. (“What you are, what you’re meant to be” – Cassidy, lyrics by John Perry Barlow)
Consider, however, what viable alternatives to the action taken did we have? That is, what prevented us from taking a different action? Conversely, what actually guided us to taking that action? If we were to go back in time – in our minds, remembering as much as we can about the moment leading up to taking that action; even granting that our memories are filtered and not entirely accurate, they are all we have to work with when considering the past – and relive that moment, rethink the thoughts we had as we made the decision to take that action, we will discover that our then current thought process, our mindset, our perspective, is what led us to taking that action. Hindsight often gives us a broader perspective which allows us to see alternatives which eluded us at the time. The key is, of course, awareness which then allows for shifting our mindset.
Being aware now of having made the “mistake,” how do we find our way back home? Some people habitually harangue themselves for past mistakes, never forgiving themselves or moving on. Clearly, not a productive line of thinking. How, then, do we get back on track towards achieving our goals of living the life we choose?
“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” Scarlett Begonias, lyrics by Robert Hunter.
Recently, during the Phil and Friends tour in New York, I was rereading Phil Lesh’s autobiography Searching for the Sound. Lesh, as many of you know, is the bassist of the Grateful Dead, Furthur and Phil and Friends. While recounting the beginnings of the Grateful Dead, even before they chose that name for the band, Lesh describes the days spent practicing and playing music together (mind you, this was very shortly after Lesh first picked up the bass, at Garcia’s urging):
“… it was the most exciting musical challenge I’d ever faced … – I had to play new ideas without thinking based solely upon context and expressive intent, and there was no space for reflection or revision. Except, of course, when I made a mistake: After playing a wrong note, for instance, I would quickly resolve it to a proper note – but then I took to repeating my mistakes (a simple matter, since the music was built out of repeating modules, or strophes) in order to resolve them differently each time. I soon began to see the dissonances caused by wrong notes, or right notes in the wrong place, as opportunities rather than liabilities – new ways to create tension and release, the lifeblood of music. This new approach was to bear strange and wonderful fruit over the next five years of the band’s development.”
Lesh realized that a mistake has a purpose if we can figure out the opportunity presented by the “mistake.” This reflects a huge shift in mindset. Following this thinking, do mistakes actually exist per se? If we learn and grow from the action in question, was it a wrong action, a mistake (which as we stated at the beginning is an action we regret)?
Although this concept is not new – I see it all the time with my clients – having this concept reinforced by Phil Lesh in his autobiography definitely gives me pause. I’ve been on the bus for 39 years now, and the music continues to touch me deeply. Throughout that time I would not have anticipated seeing a lesson from the music relevant to my work. Yet it happened. And it took two readings of Lesh’s book for the lesson to appear! Truly an example of being “shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
And the lesson? First be open to learning new insights even from the strangest of places. Second, to avoid getting bogged down by a past event of your life or action you took, simply repurpose that past event or action from a mistake to an opportunity: The opportunity to learn and grow as you make your way back to living your life with integrity, in the process of achieving your goals. This is the secret path to success.
Consider the Possibilities.
Adam J. Krim