I must be the champion dilettante of the world. I know a little about a lot, and I’ve tried so many things I’ve lost count. Some might say I’m adventuresome, and that might be partially true. I think I’m not good at many things, but I keep trying for some reason. And because I’m not good at baseball, gardening, or woodworking (among many others), I make a lot of mistakes when I try. For example, I planted some tomatoes in a plot that receives almost no sunlight. My plants haven’t even bloomed while real gardeners are giving tomatoes away as if they (the tomatoes) were radioactive. My “career” in baseball consisted of two years on a Little League farm team and then a year in minor league. I didn’t field well because I was afraid of the ball (it hurt when it hit me, after all) and I swung late and hit balls to right field as a right-handed hitter and not very hard because I weighed about 90 pounds. We won’t talk about my base-running except to say that I was thrown out a lot trying to steal second. But I kept trying.
Somewhere along the line I decided that if I were going to make mistakes I would look for the silver lining in the cloud of errors that followed me around like the dark cloud that hung over Joe Btfsplk in the Li’l Abner comic strip (yes, I know I am dating myself. Those comics were printed with—gasp—rotogravure, known if at all by the line in “Easter Parade,” “You’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure” That’s where I want to be). The silver lining is this: we learn from our mistakes, and nothing succeeds like failure. Examples are numerous and surprising. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company; Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison; and Abraham Lincoln failed in business, had a nervous breakdown, and was defeated in eight elections.
I think it instructive that Navajos deliberately introduce mistakes into their rugs to show the imperfection of anything made by humans. While the mistakes I make are not deliberate, they still show my humanity. In spades.
Sometimes mistakes can be charming. The school house I built for our local Little Library project was a typical woodworking fiasco for me: nothing was square, nails stuck out of the walls and glue was smeared all over the place. It looked like something an eight year old would build, but when the other people in the project saw it, they said it was perfectly suited to its purpose since we are trying to encourage children to read. Apparently they feel comfortable with something that looks like one of their friends could have built it.
So if you make mistakes, even if you don’t make as many as I do, rejoice! Think of all you’re learning and smile about how charming you are!