How to Give Yourself the Freedom to Make Mistakes


“Mistakes are the portals of discovery” – James Joyce

It may not be confession time but I will say it anyway.  I spent the better part of the four decades on this planet in a human body being addicted to berating myself for not being perfect.  Maybe I was getting advanced training in ‘how not to treat yourself’ or I was just a slow learner. Regardless, I got it in the end. One day, it dawned on me that being intolerant of one’s mistakes and focusing on them in exclusion of the positives is no more than self-abuse. That was not how I wanted to relate to myself anymore.

A few days after this firm decision, I was talking to a friend of mine about the idea of wanting to be powerful enough to give myself the freedom to make mistakes. It seemed like such a high goal. Insightfully, he asked, “Who did you promise that you would be perfect? God?” Ha! I laughed. We went onto another topic but that comment popped in my head while I was cooking dinner, about four hours after the conversation was over.

I used my cooking time meditatively and brewed on the undocumented agreement I must have made to be perfect. Who would I have made that promise to? If I had not made that promise to anyone including ‘God’, why is it so hard to accept and forgive my mistakes? At this point, I was still far away from the idea of celebrating my mistakes as proof of my ability to sink my teeth fully into life. Taking my friend’s question and running with it, I developed a three-step process that frees me from the fear of making a mistake or helps me forgive a mistake I made.  In essence, this little system prevents me from choking the joy out of myself with my own hands. I feel free to make mistakes. I never thought I would say that. I hope that these simple steps I share will help you reach that freedom as well.

1. See your mistakes as creative attempts to satisfy your curiosity for life

Essentially, mistakes are our continuously improving attempts to taste life in different ways. We are here to experiment, try, taste, smell, fall, get up and dance, grow and play. When we become adults, we rinse and repeat these experiences but we do it in different ways. Instead of messing up the living room before the guests arrive, we mess up relationships. And we learn from those mistakes. Life goes on.

Think about how exciting it is for a toddler to practice walking no matter how many times he falls before he can learn to walk on his own without help. The anticipation of the joy of walking beats the fear of the pain or the embarrassment a thousand times. Plus, the toddler has no stories about failure in its memory yet.  The parents accept that falling is a part of learning to walk and do not berate the kid about it. So the child learns to walk in joy, by falling and getting up with a determination and a smile. There is something to be learned from that process.

2. Review the agreement you made with the Universe

The truth is, if I was to never make mistakes, I would have to try nothing new or promise not to grow as a person. I can’t do either.  How fun is life without trying new things and growing? I don’t remember signing an agreement with the Universe that says, “I vow to be good at everything and do everything perfectly”. It’s funny how we live as if we have. Every time I make a mistake and catch myself taking my own self-love away, I remind myself of this truth. I re-affirm that ‘I have not signed an agreement that I will never make mistakes’. It is true and I derive power from this truth.

3. Turn your mistakes into stories of wisdom and fun

You can build connections and even create a more fulfilling social life by sharing wisdom through personal stories. This isn’t about making conversations all about us but experimenting with healthy vulnerability and having fun with your mistakes.

I have a very embarrassing story. I had told this to many people but never publicly like this. 18 years passed since then. I decided that it is time to turn it into a funny story from my past to reduce its shaming power over me.  Here’s the story:

I got fired from my first job with my own hand. I was 22 years old. Getting an opportunity to freely play with office equipment for the first time (including the internet), I typed up a letter on the computer and decided to fax it to my friend’s private. I hit print several times but nothing happened. I hadn’t checked to see if it was turned on.  Apparently, it wasn’t. In order to not ‘break anything’, I left it alone. When the work day was over, I packed my bag and left the office.

The next morning, a few minutes after I come in the office and go to get coffee, I get called into my boss’s office. He handed me the pink slip. This time the pink slip was the one-page letter I had written to my friend. Apparently, the boss’s personal secretary started the computers and the printer spit up 3 copies of the letter I wrote to my friend. I was complaining about the job and was telling my friend that even though it had been a few weeks, I still can’t get excited about it.  As you might have guessed, the secretary had handed the letter to the boss. I guess she wanted to be the loyal employee that day. Or she had a thing for the boss and thought that I was a threat.  I am not sure what her story was. Regardless, it wasn’t pretty. I was lucky enough to get a well-paying and challenging job approximately two weeks after that and didn’t tell anyone about how I got fired for years.

When I share it now, I get to experience intimacy in an unusual way.  People actually laugh at my stupidity without me being offended by it. It speeds up the bonding and trusting process. And we all get a laugh at my expense. I learned that mistakes can be fun if you aim to grow through them.

Our perception of events and experiences in our lives is everything. We can be victims or we can be victors. We can make our mistakes part of the journey or we can torture ourselves for them. No one masters something without failing. Human life is an art form. Your life is a blank canvas that you get to paint on every day. If we are to be master artists of human life, we have to let our mistakes lead us to unexpected new truths and discoveries. Allow yourself to be human and enjoy making a mess on the canvas. It’s half the fun.

Photo by martinak15

28 thoughts on “How to Give Yourself the Freedom to Make Mistakes”

  1. Thanks Banu. for reminder us and in particularly me that it is ok to err. I tend to get do down on myself when I make a mistake because too often I see it as a failure instead of an opportunity to improve and get better.
    I plan on using this year as a year of making mistakes and growing more than ever.

  2. I was exactly like that and it cut me off from my joy and happiness- which is the whole point of living. I love how you took the idea and ran with it, Rose! Make 2015 the best year of your life to date!

  3. Thank you for this very inspiring piece. Too often, we all struggle from this strange complex. Is it superiority complex? What happens when our environment appears to be very unrelenting at judging us, and will even smile at our attempt to be kind with ourselves as merely escapist?

    1. Dan, that is a very good point. Thank you for bringing it up! I have to comments regarding our environment: 1) Our environment will mirror what we have inside. Once we accept ourselves (and that we WILL make mistakes), no one else can make us feel inferior because of who we are. 2) Out of self-love, we can choose a different environment and/or set healthy boundaries. I had to break contact with certain family members because they would not stop “shoulding” on me. They just couldn’t help it. They were confusing love with giving advice and I wasn’t about waste my life trying to “teach” the difference to them. Instead, I made my boundaries known and explained to them how their criticism was affecting me. I said, “I may have 1 summer or 30 summers left to live on this planet. I choose to spend it with people who love and support me in the ways that I need, not with people who put me down”. If you do this, know that you will get tested. They will test to see if the boundary is *really*there. So, I stayed consistent and didn’t pick up the phone when they called. Then I’d send them an email saying that I am OK with emailing as long as it follows the guidelines I requested but was firm on not taking calls from them for a while. A few tries after, they respected my need to create space between us.

      Shortly, if your environment isn’t supporting your growth and efforts to increase self-love, find a new one! Thank you for commenting. Much love, Banu

  4. Thanks Banu,

    It is easy to lose sight of what makes us beautiful and unique. I really needed to hear your message right now! Keep inspiring beautiful living!


  5. I am so glad you got something out of it, Peter! We all need to be reminded. Life is beautiful with everything in it. Please take this with you throughout 2015. Thank you for commenting!

  6. When seeking the approval of others, I find myself feeling the sting of failure more often. It’s a hard lesson to follow through and there are times that I still remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect and there is no one I need to make happy other than myself because I will never succeed in making others happy. When we change our idea of expectations to say that we only expect that we will do our best, it allows us to succeed every time and eases that sting of “failing to be perfect.”

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Yes, that sting hurts bad! I am now (this very moment) writing about it in my e-book(which will be launched in about a week). Here is a section that might help. Please remember that it is still in first draft…

      “Our self worth comes from doing. And this “doing” is about taking actions aligned with our heart’s true desires. It is about living according to the instructions and yearnings of your Soul. Not by doing what the society tells us to do. .

      If being an actor is what is truly in your heart but you go and become an engineer because that is your family values, you will not be able to build your self-worth. You may be a highly paid engineer and even work for the President of the United States directly, but that won’t lead you to a solid sense of self-worth. It may give you an ego boost and you may latch onto that identity as if it defines you and hide behind that mask and even have awards lined up above your bed. But deep inside, you won’t feel good about yourself.

      We all want to be seen and appreciated for our gifts. No doubt. The biggest gift we can give ourselves and another being (people, animals, plants, cars, etc) is seeing their God essence. We all like hearing praise and getting a nod from someone whose opinion we trust. Yet, we won’t have our own if we are not living in accordance to our own heart’s desires and doing what our hear leads us to do. And that is a dead end street. No one, I mean no one, no matter how many zillions of times they tell you that you are worthy of love, will be able to convince you of your worth if you don’t have your own approval to begin with. And what’s worse: you will reject it, react to them and won’t be able to hear it. You will sabotage their love and prove their approval wrong. That is how well our internal protection system (ego) works!”

      Hope this offers an additional perspective to the inner work you are doing. Don’t give up! You are worth it!

      Thank you for commenting!

  7. Dear Banu,

    Loved your blog. A very good friend and psychologist, told me about trying to be perfect. Still trying to let go, and accept my warts and and all.

  8. Hi Melanie,
    Most of us start out that way! Keep asking yourself, “Who did I promise to be perfect to?” There might be a real answer there or it might your inner critic you need to talk back to. It will eventually stick. Perfect does not exist, not when it comes to humans. Chasing perfection has a huge price tag: happiness! There is a great book I suggest you look into:, “Embracing Your Inner Critic” by Sidra and Hal Stone. The faster you get this, the sooner you will be happy for no reason. Stick with it. It’s worth it!

  9. Banu
    I think we can get conned into thinking that everything in life including ourselves has to be perfect and like a glossy magazine. To learn anything, to create anything, to take any risk will mean failing and trying again. Those with great skills in whatever area of life don’t get born with them, they come from determination, practice and getting through failure.
    Your second point is important – if for whatever reason we’ve stitched ourselves up by some mental pact that creates negative judgements on ourselves then that’s a beleif we need to change if we want a happier life.

    1. Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your comment. Do you write, btw? I like your style!
      You are right on. We have to let go off our conditioning of perfection if we want to enjoy our lives. It is the most insidious sickness that we all suffer from. We can grow without torturing and rejecting ourselves. Every client I talk to judge and reject themselves and it hurts me to see that because I used to be like that. That is what promoted this post. Thanks for adding to the conversation. :)

        1. Banu,
          Thanks for the appreciation of the writing. I’ve a blog (click on my name to get there) and a couple of small ebooks that I’ve written. Always looking to improve so nice to get some positive feedback.

  10. Thank Banu for a wonderful post.

    We are often told that wise people learn from the mistakes of others.

    But from my experience you can’t really learn until you make a mistake yourself.
    It’s the emotional development that builds you, not the knowledge of the solution itself.

    You’ve got a great approach for handling mistakes.
    Thanks for sharing it!

  11. “You can’t really learn until you make a mistake yourself.” Yes! What a great point! Thank you for your valuable input, Benny! So appreciate your kind words of feedback, as well. xo

  12. Yes, they do! Growing through mistakes is actually very rewarding. It helps us build self-esteem. If we did everything right (which is not possible anyway), what criteria would we have to see how much we have grown, right? Thank you for commenting!

  13. Hey Banu, that was really what I was wondering upon since quite a lot of time. That I haven’t signed a “treaty” with anyone that I am not going to commit mistake(s) or that I am always going to be RIGHT about things. I too feel that to grow, become more self-confident and to ALLOW ourselves to make mistake(s) we actually lift a huge burden off our chest. We actually feel motivated to go ahead without carrying that extra luggage of resentment. Your post just helped me validate my opinion that I am walking on the right track. Thanks! :)

  14. Thank you for writing this and sharing. This question is very close to my heart and no matter how hard I try, I still do not allow myself the mistakes I should. Your post made me question whether I am doing it right. Thank you again!

    1. I so understand that, Ana! Whether you allow yourself or not, you WILL make mistakes. It is the whole point of being human! I am so glad that this post made a little crack in that belief for you. Keep chipping away at it. It gets easier!

    1. Annsie, I was like that too. There is an element of shame in all of us that isn’t address. Try looking into Brene Brown’s work. Healing shame is incredibly freeing. “The Gifts of Imperfection” is a wonderful book that could help you along! Cheers!

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