Making Mistakes

I want to say a few words about mistakes. Mistakes can be embarrassing. They can be humbling. They can also be opportunities for growth, though most of us would still rather avoid mistakes if we could.

Focus in on that last sentence for a moment. We would rather avoid mistakes. I believe that is because we are almost always trying to avoid discomfort. We want to feel good; we want others around us to feel good. When we make a mistake, we not only have a bad feeling of some kind, but we begin to anticipate a whole set of future bad feelings. (What happens when they find out what I’ve done? They’ll be mad! I’ll be embarrassed!)

If our desire to avoid discomfort becomes too great, then we start adjusting our decisions in ever more significant ways. Maybe we don’t take as many risks. Maybe we don’t try something new. Maybe we don’t act on our creativity. Better to be calm, peaceful, and feeling “good” than to risk all that discomfort.

We see this in a lot of our participants at TCS. We see people who avoid social overtures, or who don’t follow through on a job interview, or who spend a lot of time alone at home. On their own, these aren’t catastrophic situations; taken together over a period of time, they lead to a life of increasing emptiness, lack of purpose, and lack of joy.

At TCS we believe it is important to intentionally take risks, to be willing to make a mistake. We support our participants in doing the same thing, while helping them feel as protected and valued as possible. We process the emotions around these situations and remain positive, encouraging, and supportive. Over time, many people will gradually acclimate to a higher level of emotional discomfort, which then allows them to invest more actively in the world of people, ideas, jobs, and independence.


I am reflecting on mistakes because I’ve recently made a few, as well as tried to support others who have also made a few. (Turns out we all are making mistakes pretty regularly, though it is still hard to admit.) Like bungee jumping off a bridge, there is a huge amount of trust involved in stepping into the abyss. It’s scary, and powerful, and ultimately thrilling to feel fully alive, fully connected to others.

I believe that part of the reason our work is successful here at TCS is because we keep taking risks; we keep trying to find new ways to do our job. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but we don’t ever want to give in to the temptation to simply hide away, to avoid. Instead, we try to own the mistake, apologize when we can, learn something from the experience, and use that opportunity to grow in maturity, creativity, and wisdom.

Dave Nelson, Executive Administrative Director


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