The Right Kinds of Mistakes

Other than my mother and God above, basketball has been THE most constant presence in my thirty-ought years of life… and even me and the good Lord have danced pretty far away across the cosmic ball room from each other, from time to time–but not basketball. I love the game. When I was 10 years old, I tied my right hand behind my back with a piece of hay string and spent the summer learning how to dribble weak-handed on the dirt and gravel court at my grandfather’s farm. Later in my teens, I would escape late in the evening to my high school gym and run shooting drills around 50-gallon trash cans. There, alone in the half light, I both exercised my deepest will and exorcised my strongest demons- caught up in that peculiar catharsis that only comes when one is wholly given over in devotion to their craft. The gymnasium gave me sanctuary, and in it I reveled and dreamed.

Recently (now 35), I have attempted to make a glorious return to the court. Over the past five years or so my ability to engage the game on a competitive level has been diminished by a litany of nagging injuries, the cruelty of Father Time, and the domestic expediencies that accompany welcoming three new souls into the world. In short, I suck.

A few days ago, I geared up and headed over to my usual Sunday afternoon pick-up game. While I was warming up, my jumpshot kept coming up short, drawing the front of the rim. Now, this is not anything new for me. Over the years I have missed more shots short than anywhere else. It irks me. And then something happened: standing there, on a day of no consequence, a thunderbolt of obvious struck my brain. “Whatever you do, don’t miss short.” So, for the next two hours, I didn’t try to make a jumpshot. I just tried to make sure I never left it short. And, much to my surprise, I didn’t. Not once. Instead, I missed all sorts of shots on the back of the rim! It was amazing!

For those of you left wondering what kind of accomplishment this amounts to, I submit this observation:

Novel mistakes open up an in-road to betterment in a way that the “same ‘ol” mistakes do not.


We are creatures of habit- of both the healthy and hellish varieties. If having kids has taught me anything, it’s that you should definitely never have kids. Ahem, I mean… it’s that the whole world is bearing down on you and shaping you WELL before you ever realize it. Genetics, personalities, social pressures, emotional wounds, and a plethora of other factors are brought to bear on who we are, for better or for worse. Making new mistakes means living experimentally… and that means challenging the very parameters of your own identity, peaking under the hood to see what’s really making you, well, you.


You need to get acquainted with the other side of the sword.

You the spontaneous type? You’re probably also the unorganized type. Highly punctual? Stickinthemudual. As human beings, our greatest strengths are almost always tethered to our fatal flaws. Part of this, I believe, results from a kind of moral bet-hedging that we do when we terminally prefer a certain “way” to be. For instance: “I know being somewhat Stoic makes me seem standoffish and there really are moments of true expression that I forego, but AT LEAST I’m not a flighty chatterbox like Felicia”. Bye, Felicia. You see? It’s one “mistake” or the other. But, who is really making that decision? Is it you or the one thousand inputs in your purview?


Challenge your dispositions. Do me a favor: I dare you to purposefully make the mistake you hate the most. Come on, try it! If you’re a project fiend and hate being unproductive, take the day off mid-week for no reason and watch back-to-back matinee movies at the local theater. If you fly by the seat of your pants, take a week and schedule every 90-minute window of time from 8am-10pm. And, if you’re highly risk averse, get in your car and drive to the local casino with a $100, walk right up to the roulette table, and put that baby on black. Or, maybe red.

The point is, there is a spiritual quality in opening yourself up to newness and going on the offensive against the tiny fears that often scaffold even our best behaviors.

Think like Edison: new mistake=new lesson.

I see this with parents a lot – we become so hyper-focused on not making this one mistake- we’re blind to the flip-side of our own vigilance.

For example, my wife is what you might call “a do-er”. This is one of her greatest strengths- her ability to execute a plan and follow through has led to a thriving career, organized home, and a near mental breakdown for me 🙂 But, this same strength often comes into tension with the necessities of being a parent. She’ll tell you that her worst days of parenting are those when she tried to both play with the kids AND get the junk drawer cleaned out. I have also seen her fight hard against her natural tendencies, play for hours on end with the kids, and collapse at the end of the day more fulfilled than if she just cataloged all the household manuals in perfect spreadsheet format. This–this is what I’m talking about.

In the meantime, I’ll be at the local church gym building a brand new jumper… brick by brick by brick.

'The Right Kinds of Mistakes' has 1 comment

  1. September 17, 2015 @ 5:05 PM Jannette

    Interesting, but very difficult to incorporate into a daily routine that leaves me feeling content with being who I am and embracing the joys each different person brings to the table. I hate being late and I don’t know if being late would change my view or stress me. Being on time is from my Dad and I embrace that with joy. I will have to think about this for a while to see how I could apply your ideas. Thanks for the head scratch and thought provoking idea. Love, Jannette


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