Responses to this question get me a combination of enthusiastic chants and rolled eyes. Both for the same reason: my students know the answer very well.
Mistakes were first re-framed for me by the amazing Larry Silverberg in his first workbook in “The Sanford Meisner Approach” series.
“THERE ARE NO MISTAKES.”
That was the mantra he set in the first several pages of his book. (And yes, it was in all caps.)
“On stage,” he continues, “there are no mistakes, you must accept and embrace everything that happens!”
This was the first concept from my study of Larry’s work on Meisner that I incorporated into my training at my theatre. Working with young kids and self-conscious teens, the fear of doing something wrong is one of the most common and debilitating block to their enjoyment in acting and growth as actors.
So we started working on viewing mistakes differently — as opportunities!
I’ve found it really helpful to approach mistakes on the stage as a chance for me to have an unexpected new moment to respond to – something fun and exciting, rather than something to be feared.
While I certainly don’t encourage my actors to be flippant about their work and lazily use mistakes as a way of not putting in the effort needed to do their absolute best, I also don’t want their dread of “failing” and “doing it wrong” to immobilize them.
I’ve found that when my actors can embrace the idea that mistakes are opportunities, they are much more relaxed and focused. (And as a byproduct, usually have fewer mishaps as they aren’t stuck in their heads!)
I’ve found that the lesson can be applied to other areas of my life as well.
The above is one of my favorite pieces of work, one that is developing through the mistakes I made on it. It’s not finished. This is merely the first draft. At some point, I will re-create this piece, some of the unintended aspects I will keep, others I will correct.
The piece came about in out a desperate longing to connect with Jesus and thinking about all the ways that C.S. Lewis makes parts of Him accessible through the allegorical character of Aslan.
I didn’t want to draw a picture from the stories (for one reason the illustrations to the series are already so beautiful); instead I worked to draw Narnia as I envisioned it then on that February day. Everything went pretty well, the trees, the lamp post, the snow, until I tried to add the imprint of Aslan to it.
The idea evolved from including a lion relief on the lamp post to making the shadow of the lamp post cast the image of Aslan, as though everything in Narnia is bursting to proclaim the King of Beasts, the one who sang their world into being.
(Even though the lamp post is from our world, I’ve got to think that the many years being in the woods, it has to have come to understand who Aslan is….)
I still am very found of the idea, but the execution…well, that’s where mistake number one and two come in.
#1 – The perspective of the shadow is not right, so it looks more like the black blob is hanging from the lamp post arm. (Or as my one friend described it, “Singing in the Rain meets Narnia”.)
#2 – Even though I watered down the ink, I didn’t water it down enough. It is too dark and looks much more like a distinct creature than a shadow on the snow.
Both of these mistakes ended up being really important for me. #1 confirmed for me that I have a lack of understanding about perspective and how to work with a light direction in a piece. Wanting to be able to avoid such mistakes in the future was part of what lead me to decide to finish my Fine Arts Associates.
Because the “shadow” ended up looking much more like a black blob than a lion, and because there was no way to go in with darker ink to add the detailing of the mane, face, and paws, I had to improvise.
Utilizing my gold paint was my solution. One I really liked.
While part of me wishes I had worked in small, incremental layering and done the shadow in a blueish gray like I did the footprints, I’m glad I didn’t. If I had, I might not have used the gold to make the suggestion of a lion. And I also might not have made mistake number three!
#3 – I was careless in squeezing out my paint, which ended up squirting out a large streak on the page.
At first I was mortified. This was a mistake that I could have so easily avoided if I would have just slowed down and gone through the extra effort of caution. (This is something I really need to work on. I am way to found of cutting corners.) But even the mistake borne from laziness (the worst kind of mistakes in my opinion) brought about something in the piece that I really like: lines of gold darting across the page.
When I get to work on my second draft of this piece, I will keep the gold streaks and detailing on the lion and fix the perspective and coloring of the shadow.
Until then I have it framed in my kitchen, to remember that sometimes you correct mistakes by learning how to avoid making them again, and other times you learn from them by embracing them and incorporating them into your work.
That’s much easier for me to accomplish in my practice of art than it is in my daily life.
Messing up in life causes greater harm, greater embarrassment, and don’t usually offer the chance to do another draft. Whether I make an innocent mistake or a full blown sin, the impact is not easily dealt with.
I think about the ways I have hurt my friends, overspent my money, wasted my time, rebelled against Jesus…I can’t just draw another version of those moments and throw away the reality of what I’ve done.
My shame of sin often gets in the way of my needed repentance and restoration. I’ve had relationships go through long periods of awkwardness or tension because I was so embarrassed by the fact that I had hurt or failed them (thus proving I was not perfect) that I often didn’t want to even face them. This did not help matters.
In the spring, I taught a Meisner class for my younger actors, and we often talked about how mistakes were opportunities. I like to apply as much acting technique to every day life as possible, so as our question and answer routine got hammered into us, I thought a lot about how mistakes provide opportunities in my relationships.
When I realized that my pride prevented me from being able to honestly face the ways I had hurt my friendships with people, I began to see how I needed to practice the humility of admitting I was flawed and to accept their grace and forgiveness.
Much like the first streak of gold that marred my drawing, my sin against others mars them. When I can put aside pride and seek to make amends and they are able to forgive me, that wound can get incorporated into our story in beautiful and amazing way.
The other thing I realized was that my mistakes and sins in my day to day life are opportunities of remembrance. If I can get off my high horse and let go of my pride which insists on trying to prove how perfect I am, I can view my blunders as reminders of how much I need Jesus to save me.
Now, I’m not suggesting we should be flippant about how we hurt others or fail to worship God with all our soul, (The apostle Paul makes it pretty clear in Romans that grace is not a free ticket to do whatever we want) but I have found that in striving to accept the grace that Jesus and others offer when I fail makes it easier for me to actually learn from what I’ve done wrong.
Instead of my horror at my lack of perfection driving me to hide in shame, or trying to seek my own absolution by beating myself up for how terrible I am, I can be more focused on the ways that I have hurt others and Jesus, more concerned about them then any exposure of own imperfections. Accepting that mistakes and sin are opportunities to practice humility, to depend on Christ, make it easier for me to go to people when I have wronged them and be grieved by the wound I’ve caused. All this drives me to Jesus.
It’s tricky to both extol the grace that covers all my sin and at the same time strive to conquer my sin. It’s easy for me to either beat myself up over my mistakes or to view it as not a big deal because Jesus has paid for it all.
The past several months, I’ve struggled a lot with my binge eating again. And for a while, I was so convinced that I was finding something like life in over-eating that I did not want to change. I wanted to just sweep it under the rug because Jesus is so gracious.
But because Jesus is gracious, He began to show me how my binges ended up driving me away from Him. My decision to seek life in food instead of Jesus actual made it really hard for me to experience the grace I told myself I was living under by just eating however I wanted.
I realized that I need to learn from my mistake, my sin, of turning to food instead of Jesus.
Does that mean I’ve stopped bingeing? No. This past week in some ways has been worse than other weeks.
But as I’ve struggled this week with over-eating, sometimes successfully, often not, each time it’s a chance for me to reaffirm that I am not able to save myself. That’s something really needs to sink into my soul. And while I don’t want to purposely to show how desperate I am, God exposes my need of a Savior to me in the aftermath of my sin.
Another area of sin that God is using an opportunity to revel Himself to me in a deeper way is my anger towards Him. I struggle to trust God’s goodness, I doubt that He actually cares about me, and I have spent most of the last sixteen years of my life hurling accusations against Him, while at the same time desperately clinging to His grace and patience.
The last two and half years in particular, my anger and sometimes straight hatred of Him has given stark contrast to the fact that Jesus left the glory and grandeur of heaven to die for me, someone He knew would doubt Him again, and again, and again.
I wish that I had a greater faith in Jesus, that I could trust His goodness even when His sovereignty is hard and confusing. It’s something I pray about often and continually seek to grow in. But as frustrating (and sometimes infuriating) as my struggle with mistrust and suspicion of God is, it has become a reoccurring chance to remember that God is faithful even when I am not.
So as I go through life and seek to live in a way that honors Jesus and blesses others, I am trying to grow in the quick humility that recognizes sin, repents of it quickly, and embraces the reminders of my dependence on grace and God’s faithfulness.
What are mistakes? Opportunities: to learn, change, remember, lean on and magnify Jesus.