What We’re Told About Mistakes
- Avoid making mistakes at all costs
- If you try hard enough, you can (and should) be perfect
- Mistakes are bad
- Mistakes show weakness
In talking with 20 different zoom groups about finding meaningful work (audio book now available – yes, I read it!), some themes are consistent. Whether they are from the U.S., Brazil, Finland, Canada, Austria, Greece, and many other countries, young participants talk about the anxiety of having to:
- find the perfect job
- get a good paying job to pay off college debt
- get the kind of job that leads to a “good” career
- pick the right college
- pick the right major in college
- keep up with peers who seem to have it all figured out
Whether they have gotten these messages from parents, teachers, counselors, or “society,” doesn’t matter. What is important is how to help them break free from these “deflators.” (Deflator has a statistical definition, I’m using it to mean… people and things that take the wind out of our sails!) Instead of encouraging young people to trust themselves and try different things, we are still giving the same advice as previous generations. And it’s not working.
The Real Downside
If making a mistake is such a bad thing, then what are teaching young people about taking risks? We all know that teenagers are bound to engage in risky behavior. But once they go off to college, many accept the responsibility of finding a career, paying off their debt and understand the stability that money will give them.
In a rapidly changing world, rational risk taking is an important coping skill. Following the same path as previous generations, combined with a fear of taking a risk, is a recipe for disaster when it comes to finding work that resonates with the values of Gen Z and millennials.
Educational systems tend to reward people who think and act in certain ways. It takes tremendous will and personal strength to say, “I’m going to do it my way.” Young people feel pressured to succeed and are high-achieving. They see what’s expected and then look at the way the world is today.
- Job market forces pushing them toward the gig economy (42% of young people freelance)
- The pandemic effecting every aspect of their lives (social, financial, emotional, physical)
- The ever increasing pace of technological change also affects their job search and prospects
- That progress towards equality in diversity and inclusion is too slow and detrimental to our society
Pressures and realities lie in stark contrast. Most of us aren’t doing much to understand these changes and support a more exploratory method of finding work. I’m not saying we should financially support any and all ‘exploration.’ Encouragement, being attuned to their specific struggle, thinking broadly about new types of work opportunities… are all ways we can make a difference.
Changing the Message
Let’s think about changing the message we give young people about mistakes and risks. Instead of what they learn in school e.g. do it this way, get this answer; be sensitive and even applaud reasonable risk taking. Instead of insisting that they follow ‘our’ path, listen to how they describe their challenges. Fortify their journey by showing respect for these pitfalls.
Glorious, amazing mistakes are a different way to look at our work journeys. Every job we take teaches up something. Every decision about where we live, what we study, what we read, and who we listen to for advice, is a chance to change from “do it my way or else” to “congrats on trying something new. The outcome is less important than taking a risk.
Photo credit: Make new mistakes