Yesterday, I went to Barnes and Noble. And while I waited thirty minutes for a lunch date that was running late, an epiphany magically escaped a child’s recorder, marched straight into my ear, and danced its it’s staccato rhythm all the way to my heart.
A young pig-tailed and periwinkle-clad girl hugged her mother’s leg, peeking out from behind it like the “safe” tree in a backyard game of tag. Her mother offered her daughter a recorder, prodding her to play for a burgeoning group of kids who had gathered in the Children’s Book section awaiting the reading hour that was as late as my lunch date. The little girl whispered to her mother, then buried her face in her “safe” thigh. Her mother patted her back and made an aside to an adjacent mother, “She’s doesn’t want to make a mistake.” The mother then bent down and gave her little one a hug. When her daughter finally let go of her mother, she took the recorder into her little hands and began to play…
Was the little periwinkle princess a recorder virtuoso, reinventing a riveting rendition of “Hot Cross Buns”? No. In fact, she made any number of “mistakes,” while virtually destroying the original melody. However, it took mere seconds for her to become the pied-piper to what was previously an amorphous mob of munchkins. They filed in front of her, dancing, marching, and swinging their arms in unison in support of their more and more fearless flautist.
I peeked over the top of my hard-cover cover to witness the life lesson laying before me.
There is no fun without making “mistakes.”
I instantly thought back to every basketball, volleyball, soccer game in which I ever played. Do you know how someone scores a point in volleyball? In any sport? Someone lets the ball hit the floor. Someone makes a mistake. We wouldn’t go see a game if everyone made every single shot. Where is the passion, the suspense, the dynamic effort and challenge of it all? Where are the high missed-stakes?
I flashed back to every improv show that I’ve ever done. Do you know when the audience laughs? Do you know how we pick what to say and do next as performers? Someone breaks the pattern. Someone makes a mistake.
I looked down at a paper cut on my finger, wrapped in antibiotic ointment under a bandaid. Do you know what created the first antibiotic? What revolutionized all medicine? Dr. Alexander Flemming’s dirty dishes. Someone made a mistake…otherwise known as Penicillin.
Where would we be without our mistakes? We would be in a bland, laugh-less, lifeless world. Mistakes are not negative, they are not wretched signs of our incompetence, or reasons for us to give up extracurriculars, or forfeit our desire to try. Yet so often, we use them as our excuse to flog ourselves continuously. To punish ourselves by staying on the sidelines, the back line, or to emotionally, physically flatline.
It is time to give ourselves a break. To hug someone dear to us, to gather our confidence, and grab life’s recorder and just…play. Play, play, play. Play because it feels fun to try. It feels fun to play. It feels fun to make mistakes. We are all human. And there will always be an amorphous mob of metaphorical munchkins waiting to dance and twirl and swing in support of us. In support of us pigtailed, periwinkle and passionate Pied-Pipers.
So, have fun, live free, and make many, many mistakes.
Polo REO Tate was born in Lansing, Michigan, where her family has deep ties to the community. Her Great Great Grandfather was Ransom Eli Olds (R.E. Olds), a pioneer and prolific inventor most notably responsible for inventing the first internal combustion automobile—the Oldsmobile. Growing up, [...]