A vocal coach in Australia described her method of helping the participants in her classes sing more freely: she gives them each ten “mistake passes.” She knows that when students are concerned with singing “right,” their bodies will tense, their throats constrict, and what they hear coming out of their mouths will confirm their worst fear: I’ll never sing.
After she gives the students permission to make LOTS of mistakes, and checks in to make sure they do, their singing becomes play. They become more curious and often enjoy the sounds they make. They’re inspired to keep going.
Everything becomes an experiment, and she reminds her class, no scientist expects all of her experiments to succeed.
Even though a part of me knows that “there are no mistakes” especially in the expressive arts, it’s hard to convince my fierce inner judge, who is very skeptical of such adages. I would LOVE an ample supply of pre-authorized mistake passes to use when I’m expressing myself.
Making art is so much more fun when you can screw up and rediscover the art of play. I paint in acrylics because it’s a forgiving medium. Today’s mistake becomes tomorrow’s underlayer of an evolving painting. I repurpose mistakes from past projects into collage materials to use in future creations.
A set for you
I want to offer you your own set of passes: ten to start; more as needed.
Hopefully, you aren’t designing a bridge. Engineers don’t have the same latitude as acrylic artists. But the majority of my mistakes are only impactful to me.
Outside the studio, I would love to use some mistake passes to help me during routine flub-ups. Like when I:
Go blank during a conversation (or talk!) and don’t remember what I meant to say.
Forget a word, an expression, a title, or a friend’s name.
Promise to clean up my office but put it off again and again.
Find some typos in my new book (see last week’s post).
I know that these errors are not world-shattering, but my inner critic still sees them as imperfections, which, per my post last week, it finds hard to bear.
My only caveat with the use of the mistake passes I am gifting you is to not use them to hurt anyone. And if you do hurt someone, clean it up. Learn to admit that you do make mistakes.
When mistakes go global
When our mistake hurts another, it takes courage to acknowledge what we’ve done and face the consequences.
Admitting mistakes gives us humility and compassion, but not impunity. We may need to make amends.
I fell in love with Pope Francis when he admitted that he made mistakes, with terrible consequences, in his early days as leader of the Catholic Church in Argentina. A Pope who can acknowledge his human imperfections is a lot more trustworthy, in my book, than the alternative.
Yet, a lot of world leaders seem to be caught in a cult of infallibility, and this can cause some serious danger, destruction, and suffering.
What a different world it would be if more leaders could be like Francis and say (and be permitted to say), “I made a mistake.” Or, “You made a mistake, yet I am fallible, too.”
With more humility there would be less senseless violence. That’s a topic for a bigger conversation.
Instead, I need to refuel my spirit by stepping away from the news and the heart-wrenching consequences of terrible global mistakes.
Back to play
Play is serious stuff. It can help us handle grief or find our balance when confronted with the unthinkable.
Today I’ll use my passes to go into the studio and smear paint. I’ll make LOTS of mistakes. And say a little prayer for the world.
I hope that you’ll fully use your ten mistake passes. Feed your soul. Come back—I’ll give you more. Then make your own to share with others.