Everyone should make a few mistakes

Iím not much of a magazine reader. Mostly because I never have time to read them from cover to cover, so they tend to pile up in the corner. Thereby making me feel guilty and inadequate at every turn.

On the odd occasion I pick up a magazine, itís usually The Economist, or Fast Company. Iíve never been one to pour over womenís magazines. You know, the ones extolling the virtues of the latest fashion trends and offering self-help tips which promise to help you make over your life, lose 15 pounds, please your man and/or find the love of your life in 10 steps or less.

That isnít to say that Iím not compelled to flip through the glossy pages of one of these publications on occasion. If, for example, one happens to be lying around when Iím at otherwise loose ends.

As it so happens, one of those occasions was last night. After work I went for a long walk with my niece Jessica, who is visiting with my sister Trish. When we returned to the house, sweaty and near exhaustion, my father had just tuned into the Yankees game. Yawn. Not wanting to appear completely anti-social (although I have to say it was tempting), I picked up a magazine lying on the coffee table. Iím assuming Trish had bought it, since it wasnít one of the flight training manuals which typically clutter up that particular surface.

It was, in fact, the September issue of Real Simple. While Iíd seen itís glossy cover gracing magazine stands, Iíd never picked it up before. As I paged through, I glanced at the pictures of uber-skinny models wearing clothes Iíd never dream of draping on my frame, drooled over the fabulously overpriced footwear and half read some fairly inane suggestions about alternative uses for socks and some random recipes involving corn flakes.

Then, filed away under ďLife Lessons: Expertise,Ē I found a piece somewhat outside the typical self-help realm. It was entitled, ď5 mistakes everyone should make.Ē

I was instantly intrigued. Normally, these little snippets of supposed wisdom are designed to help you avoid common pitfalls, not encourage them. As a chronic mistake-maker - heck Iím practically a pro - I found this to be a rather unique angle, particularly since each of the 5 suggestions had been penned by someone successful in their chosen field.

Pithy piece of advice #1: Totally embarrass yourself.

Been there; done that. And who hasnít? My greatest hits could certainly top the static cling-induced moment of angst offered by renowned psychotherapist and author of Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher. One that particularly sticks in my mind was an excruciating embarrassing wardrobe malfunction at the lavish wedding of my friends Sara and Michael Vanek.

I fell in love with my dress as soon as I put it on in the Macyís dressing room. It was stunning - a long black number with a dramatic slit, spaghetti straps and a not-too-low-cut bodice, with a dash of sparkle. My only concern was those dainty little straps, but my mother - who was, as always, my shopping partner - loved it too. So I bought it.

Which, in retrospect, was not the wisest of decisions. Mid-way through the Vanekís incredibly Italian wedding, my, um, dťcolletage, apparently overwhelmed the aforementioned straps. Fabric stretched which shouldnít have and my lovely dress went from fabulous to floozy in no time flat.

I didnít notice it at first. But Saraís old Italian uncles did. Suddenly, they all wanted to dance with me. Which I found flattering, until my friend Liz edged me off the dance floor.

When I reappeared, I was enveloped in my gauzy black wrap. Which, thankfully, Iím wearing in most of the photographic evidence of the occasion. Not that Iíll never live the experience down, of course. Liz and all the rest of my friends will make sure of that.

Pithy piece of advice #2: Ruffle peopleís feathers.

This second tidbit, offered by Research Scholar Mary C. Gentile, PH.D., caused me no small amount of consternation. Iím all for ruffling feathers, donít get me wrong. It is, after all, something of a job requirement. I just never considered it a mistake.

Pithy piece of advice #3: Follow trends blindly.

Author Simon Doonan says diving head first into every trend that came his way helped him discover himself and develop his own signature style, which landed him his gig as creative director of Barneys New York in the mid-80ís. I canít say my brief forays into fashion forward trends has done anything so profound for me. Other than reinforce the fact that Day-Glo colors arenít flattering with my skin tone. Nor is purple hair. And Iíd rather not discuss the parachute pants.

Pithy piece of advice #4: Be willing to fail - doing something you love.

Author Bill Murphy Jr. advocates the follow-your-passion approach to career selection as a way to ďprofessional happiness.Ē He says everyone should ask themselves two questions every day: ďAre you passionate about what you do? And if not, what are you going to do instead?Ē

Now, there was a time in my life, not too many years ago, when the very idea of such a thing would have made my blood run cold. But then I actually did spend some time contemplating those same, or at least very similar questions. That introspection lead me back to writing, and home to Chenango County. Iím happy to say that Iím in a better place as a result.

Donít get me wrong, itís not wine and roses every day at The Evening Sun. But at the end of the day (as long as Iím not heading to a school board meeting), I love what I do. And I feel incredibly fortunate for that.

Pithy piece of advice #5: Carelessly put yourself at risk.

Despite my propensity for making bad decisions, I donít have a careless bone in my body. As my fellow economists would put it, Iím incredibly ďrisk averse.Ē But thatís not to say writer and commentator Amy Ozolsís experience as a novice skier on a black-diamond run didnít hit home for me.

For me, that opportunity came a little over a year ago, when I accompanied a group of Norwich High School students to the Adirondacks on the inaugural Leadership Project retreat. By noon on the first day, weíd already tackled three Olympic events (biathlon, luge and bobsled) and were preparing for a 6-mile trek up White Face. I was nervous - not for the hike - but for the 8-mile journey back down along a wet and winding roadway. On a bicycle.

The very idea filled me with abject terror. I couldnít remember the last time Iíd been on a bike, and Iíd had more than my fill of mountain roads when I lived in Colorado. But I wasnít going to let anyone know that, of course.

It was, without a doubt, the longest, scariest 8 miles of my life. Iím sure the scenery was divine, but I only remember the screeching of my brakes as I rode them all the way down. Thankfully, the incessant high pitched noise hid the steady stream of curse words coming from my lips from the impressionable ears around me. Because it wasnít pretty, I assure you.

But I made it. Do I feel the better person for it? Absolutely. Even though I can assure you I wonít be repeating the experience anytime soon. Or ever, for that matter.

Getting on that bike and making it down that mountain was a reminder for me - just as reading this article was - that in order to grow you have to challenge yourself, test your own boundaries and occasionally step out of your comfort zone. The people who are most successful in life arenít afraid to do any of the above. They are willing to take risks and make mistakes, because they see the opportunity in what other people see as a challenge or obstacle.

Mistakes, as long as you learn something from them, can be a good thing.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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