Being perfectly human means accepting human imperfections

By Saybrook University

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself,” states Anna Quindlen, best selling author and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. 

It’s ok to make mistakes. Stop striving for perfection.

Easier said than done, I know.  We have a strange relationship with the need to be perfect.  In society, children are told its ok to make mistakes. But not adults.  As soon as we join the “real world,” mistakes stop being okay.

Well, new literature suggests that mistakes ARE ok – even for adults.  In fact, they can help facilitate growth and it might just well be the foundation of psychological health.

In a landmark publication, Alina Tugend furthers the theory and research about human error. Released last month, Tugend’s book Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, suggests that embracing screw-ups can not only make us happier, but healthier and smarter.

Tugend heralds the good news that human beings, no matter the degree or frequency of mistakes they’ve made, are not themselves mistakes. With that understanding, she takes the reader into deep waters looking at the medical advances that have resulted from mistakes, the fear that American society has attached to mess-ups, and the all encompassing shame that results from falling from the throne of perfection.

The reader is encouraged to divorce the thought patterns that link mistakes with character flaws, intimidation, dishonor, failure, punitive measures or other biased maladaptive beliefs about one’s intrinsic nature, goodness, and value. In the place of the maladaptive belief systems, Tugend contends that mistakes should be seen as opportunities for growth, discovery, understanding and powerful tools for learning. And when the shame, embarrassment, and fear detach from mistakes the experiences connected with them become livable, growth facilitating, and psychologically beneficial.

Tugend’s work adds to the body of work produced by humanistic psychologists that attribute the same inherently good attributes to humanity;  it’s a tradition that holds that people have intrinsic value, intentionality, the capacity to make meaning, and self-determining and self-actualizing tendencies – regardless of diagnosis, intellect or other man-made constructs.

Capturing the essence of humanity and “mistakes,” humanistic psychology founder Abraham Maslow once said, “I have learned the novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not to be afraid of making mistakes, or of appearing naive.

Hopefully such wisdom will eventually erase the taboo of mistakes.  The shame dissipated. The fear washed away.

— Liz Schreiber