Made a mistake? Try looking at it as a work of art

art

Mistakes are messy. But that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. (Photo via Peter van Broekhoven on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

We all make mistakes sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. Most days I find myself uttering “I’m sorry” or “d’oh!” more than I like to admit.

It’s often these small failures that can send us into a spiraling hole of negativity and cause us to be paralyzed. Taking that next step toward action, then, becomes hard.

So I was relieved to read a recent Brainpickings blog post about philosopher Daniel Dennett’s book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, that encouraged me to look at mistakes in a different way:

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they were works of art, which in a way they are…The trick is to take advantage of the particular details of the mess you’ve made, so that your next attempt will be informed by it and not just another blind stab in the dark.

We have all heard the forlorn refrain “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” This phrase has come to stand for the rueful reflection of an idiot, a sign of stupidity, but in fact we should appreciate it as a pillar of wisdom. Any being, any agent, who can truly say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” is standing on the threshold of brilliance.

So next time you forget a part of your presentation to volunteers or get upset when your plan to attract donors doesn’t come out the way you thought it would, remember: You’re brilliant. And there’s always next time to make it better.

How have you embraced your mistakes and used them to help you take a step forward?

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Ask Ero: Answers for baffled and confused Idealists

In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions about anything and everything regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them. Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers or a work-safe Dan Savage.

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3Last time you heard from me, I’d invited all of you to ask me even the most random of questions. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d get any questions at all. I did. Thank you, readers! Now, let’s see if I can actually answer them.

I recently got a degree in ‘service design’ from SCAD, and just moved up to NYC a couple weeks ago. I’m a highly motivated idealist, and I have a rare, yet amazingly valuable skill-set. But how do I find an awesome job doing awesome work for an awesome company if no one knows what my field is– and no one is posting jobs in it?
-Yosef

This is a tricky question. First of all, networking is going to be important, but you’ll have to go beyond ordinary networking. Don’t just go to parties and mingle and talk about how great you are: get involved everywhere you can and show up as a representative of your field. Get involved in your professional organization. Go to every relevant event you can. Participate, and get visible.

The nonprofit sector, which is often starved for resources, may be an especially tough sell for someone in a field like yours, which will seem to many like window-dressing or a luxury service. You’ll need to go to extra lengths to show why your work is important and how it helps organizations succeed in their mission. Telling people why your work is valuable to each organization will be your responsibility. Take it seriously. No one else will do this for you.

Build a nice-looking webpage (which I see you’ve done) advocating for your expertise, but also advocating for why your work matters. Write articles for publications explaining how valuable the field is. Look for opportunities to volunteer and/or do pro bono work for causes you believe in, and build a spectacular portfolio from the results.

Because no one knows about what you do, you have a rare opportunity to show people why it’s important, and to become the representative that everyone thinks of when they want someone to help with that field.

One reality is this: in the short term you might find yourself doing a job that isn’t exactly what you hoped, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use what you know. Your plan will be to use the deep knowledge and rare skills you possess, to build your future a little bit at a time. So look for jobs in related disciplines, and that encompass things that are like your field. You’ll bring different knowledge to your work than any other candidates, but that’s a good thing. Highlight that difference on your resume, on cover letters, and in your interview, so that you stand out. Then once you have the job, make your unique skills count.

I’m working with a bunch of college students who are serving as mentors to graduating high school seniors over the summer. Someone told me that I could give them all Google phone numbers, which could map onto their existing cell phones so that they wouldn’t be giving out their personal info to the students. How does this work?
-Lisa

Google Voice ought to be perfect for your purposes. It just takes a moment to set up a Google Voice account: you tell it what number you want it to ring, then pick a number from the available options, to have as your GV number. Setting this up takes only a couple minutes, and there’s a good support page.

Now, this basic setup won’t help with outgoing calls, only incoming. If you want to make outgoing calls, you’ll need a Smartphone with an app. Android phones are especially good for this, but iPhones can do it too. There’s also some built-in tracking if you’re in an org using Google Apps (which I heartily recommend for most nonprofits). You also can get voice mails in your email inbox, which is pretty neat.

What is the meaning of life?
-Brett

Finally, a question I’m qualified to answer! A question that has tormented deep thinkers through the ages! No problem. I’ve totally got this.

Seriously, for me there’s one simple answer: love. Not love as a noun, love as a verb. Active love: giving and being generous and trying to improve the world in some small way. Doing this means you’ve got no time for fear or discontent or angst. And there’s nothing more satisfying than giving back to the world around you. There are so many ways to give and serve, and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why Idealist.org was made, it’s why the nonprofit sector exists, and it’s why we work in it. This is always a work in progress, and having patience with one’s own imperfections is also a way to act with love. Be patient and give it a little bit each day, and you’ll be on the right track automatically.

That’s all for this installment. Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.
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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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