I think people fall into two camps when it comes to mistakes, or are of two minds. On one side, we seem to understand that mistakes are necessary in order to learn. On the other, we seem to agree that mistakes are something to be avoided.
If I accept both ideas, then I don’t know whether to welcome mistakes or dread them. I don’t think its enough to simply accept both statements as valid. Maybe there’s more to mistakes than meets the eye.
I think most people tend to form their ideas about others in a new relationship fairly quickly. They observe how someone acts, whether they are fair, considerate, and responsible. They’ll stick with their initial picture until they get new evidence to the contrary.
If I make a mistake, I have added data to the other person’s view of me. In their eyes I become the kind of person who makes that mistake. The question is then, “Is the person who makes that mistake someone they want to have a relationship with?”
If my mistake is small and I never make it again, the other person is likely to think “Well, he’s just a human being. It’s just an oversight, or a learning moment.” It fits into their conception of me without forcing them to change it so much.
If, on the other hand, the mistake is large, or I make it several times, I risk radically changing the other person’s perception of me. I’m now the kind of person who would do the wrong thing at any time. My errors aren’t seen as a lapse but as the norm.
If I am performing, I have to weigh carefully how much preparation I want to put into the performance. How many errors can I live with, and what kind? It depends on the audience and, if I’m in a band, on the bandmates.
If I prepare extremely well and it’s obvious from my general demeanor of competence and confidence, than a small error here or there will probably not phase anyone. If I make numerous mistakes, then even if I am only unprepared for that one job, I risk people thinking that I am the kind of musician that habitually plays badly. The risk is less for a casual fling like a jam session, but even in that setting people are prone to judge.
I will judge myself as well. As I make mistakes, I may begin to devalue myself. If the mistakes are too many or too large for me to process, I may make excuses for my failures to protect my self image and end up perpetuating the problem.
So I prepare as best I can, and I forgive myself as best I can. And at all costs I attempt to avoid making the same mistake twice. Would you agree that this resolves the conflict, or am I mistaken in some way?
Adam Cole is a music educator, author and Guild Certified Feldenkrais Instructor living in Atlanta, GA. His weekly blog can be found at www.mymusicfriend.net