Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy

Feb 19, 2021

(Originally posted 24 March 2015.)

When I was a new parent, I gave myself permission to see the world in a fresh way. When our 3-year-old spilled the box of 100 Band-Aids, I took ridiculous delight in counting the scattered Band-Aids and sorting them into piles by shape and size.

Some of us are tenacious life-long learners. Driven by fearless curiosity, we choose to see the familiar in new ways. We hunger to uncover and discover anything and everything. We ask a zillion questions. Not everyone feels comfortable asking questions. Some folks don’t want others to know that they don’t know something.

My clients often express the shame of not knowing. They may share an embarrassing work experience, or admit they did not know mothering would be so hard. Many feel they are navigating life without a road map or a working GPS.

I tell them about the PBS show The Magic School Bus and Ms. Frizzle’s repeated mantra: In order to learn you need to “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

The Magic School Bus was an educational animation show for primary school kids. Ms. Frizzle was a wild-haired science teacher with unforgettable adventurous experiments. She would load the kids on her Magic Bus for a field trip. The bus would shape shift, getting bigger or smaller and start flying. In one episode, in order to teach the kids about the respiratory system, the bus shrank and went up someone’s nose and down into their bronchial tubes. The kids would roll their eyes at her crazy teaching style.

Ms. Frizzle gives us permission to not need to know everything and the wisdom to understand that the learning process isn’t always neat and tidy.

When we were kids, we didn’t expect ourselves to know everything. Even before our primary school years, learning happened organically and in conjunction with playing in our sand boxes, building forts, climbing trees, or at the dinner table. When we think of a nine-year-old learning to play a violin, we wouldn’t expect symphony quality sounds; we expect and tolerate the jarring squeaks and inconsistency of the young musician.

Our egos don’t like the idea of getting caught not knowing something−or worse, looking stupid. Deep down there might be a stifled voice saying, “I can’t do this.” We don’t even know that voice is influencing us. That small hidden voice instigates our self-sabotage. We quit before we try.

If you find yourself in that quagmire, the antidote is movement. Move your body, move your mind. Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. I say do it with fearless curiosity. It breaks you open to a fresh perspective.

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