Ask anyone about what makes them the proudest about their lives, and you’ll hear all kinds of answers about success and achievements: having a degree from a prestigious university, getting a promotion, winning an award, making enough money to buy something big, running a marathon in under 4 hours, sending their children to a great school, and so on and so forth. But no one will ever talk about their mistakes that they are proud of.
Wait. What? Proud of mistakes? Mistakes are something to be ashamed and discreet about because they mean you failed and why would anyone be proud of their failures?
Because they mst often achieve and succeed exactly because of their mistakes and failures. If you’ve never failed in life, you’ve never challenged yourself to be someone better and do something bigger. No one just stood up and walked, everyone tried for months before they mastered the balance of standing on their feet. No one made it through school without struggling with difficult subjects. No one sent a rocket into space without blowing up a few on the ground first.
But here’s the thing: everyone will agree that making mistakes is natural and learning from them is honourable, but few people will actually ‘come out’ about their fuck-ups and talk openly about what and when they did wrong. “I’m not perfect, I’ve made mistakes,” is the most open most people can be. But ask them for details, and they’ll blush and try to change the subject.
Tell you what. I’ll volunteer to publicly admit my mistakes and say that I am proud of every single one of them. My achievements may define me, but it’s my mistakes that make me. In no particular order, they are.
One: I had a gap year between school and university.
What sounds like a dream to most teenagers in the West is a mark of shame in my home country of Russia: it’s one thing if you decide not to continue your education at all, but it’s a very different story if you try and fail some exams and have to wait another year. Basically, everyone just thinks you’re stupid and hopeless. When you’re 16 or 17, it can be crushing.
In my case, I was one of the top students in school, aimed for the country’s top university and failed the last exam. Not great, but I thought I could use the unexpected gap year to give myself some rest and advance my English, but most other people thought I should have tried getting into somewhere else just to prove my intelligence. Long story short, I resisted my mother’s cries and my neighbours’ judging faces, used my gap year to revise and got into that top university a year later than initially hoped.
Lesson learnt: don’t give in to pressure to settle down for less than you want.
Two: P&G didn’t hire me. Four times.
P&G is a major employer, and having them on your CV opens many doors. I applied to them four times, and always failed to get an offer at various stages of the hiring process. I was in my early 20s and thought that I must have been not good enough for them (well, obviously I wasn’t).
It took me years of working with other companies to understand that actually, they were not good enough for me too. There’s more to hiring someone than just checking their experience and skills: all other things being equal, a recruiter will give a job offer to someone who he feels is a better match because there’s something about his personality that matches the company’s environment better. I’ve known a few people who worked for P&G, and from hearing what working in P&G is like I am certain P&G and I were not a work match made in heaven, and I am glad that those recruiters saw that when I was still a career novice to see that myself.
By the way, my career turned out just fine without P&G in my resume.
Lesson learnt: some things don’t happen, and it’s alright to let them go and do other things.
Three: I dated wrong men.
And who hasn’t? There are some fairytale stories how people meet in kindergarten and spend decades together, adoring each other and their offsprings, and then die on the same day, holding hands. Most people, however, are less lucky and will date all kinds of weirdos before they find their soulmate (if ever).
When I was younger, I had a very low self-esteem so I would fall for anyone who seemed to like me and that included: a pathological womaniser, a married man, a man with some serious mental health problems, a one night stand and a couple of other interesting characters. There was always this feeling of something odd about those relationships, but I brushed it away telling myself that true love is worth suffering for.
And then I met my now husband, and it felt right straight away, and the only suffering that ever happens is when he still puts glasses in the dishwasher which doesn’t wash them properly.
Lesson learnt: if the relationship doesn’t feel right, most probably, it isn’t, and the longer you stay in it the more likely you are to miss out on a relationship that will make you happy. Easier said than done, I know.
Four: I spent too much money.
I am from that generation that, until about 25, used to think life was good enough. And then Facebook and Instagram happened, and it turned out that everyone else’s life was so much better. They went to fancy parties in designer clothes and travelled to exotic destinations and dined in posh restaurants. So I thought I needed to catch up and maxed out my credit cards. Oh, that was also when “The Secret” was popular, so I believed I’d deal with my debts just by visualising winning a lottery.
It didn’t end well. My credit card debts spiralled to 7 monthly salaries, I didn’t really enjoy those fancy parties, and posh restaurants and that jackpot didn’t happen. It took me years to pay off my debts which meant boring budgeting and severe austerity. ‘You can have it all now and pay for it later’ proved to be a terrible idea.
Lesson learnt: you have to live within your means.
Five: I failed my driving test four times.
I don’t like driving. I don’t get that thrill of being behind the wheel that some people talk about. I don’t get hard nipples when I see an expensive shiny car. I have no trouble using public transport to get from A to B. However, I believe that everyone should be able to drive- as in, know how to drive and have a driving licence to do it, which means taking driving lessons and passing a driving exam.
The UK is notoriously tough when it comes to driving, and the examiners will have no trouble giving you a ‘fail’ for small mistakes on the road. I am speaking from experience here because I failed four times . I was close to giving up, but I am stubborn. I passed on the 5th attempt, which may sound shameful because many people pass quicker, but my four failures did make a better driver out of me. I made fewer mistakes and drove with more confidence, which is great for the sake of my own road safety and everyone else’s.
Lesson learnt: mistakes make you better if you take notes and learn from them.
Six: I failed to move to London many years ago.
More than six years ago, I was young and ambitious and quit my job in Moscow to try and move to London. Somehow, I thought that my Russian brand manager assistant experience would make me very headhuntable in the UK and that employers would fight among themselves to hire me and support my work visa. In two months, I had just one interview, ran out of money and had to board a one-way flight back to Moscow. That was a glorious example of someone being too…naive? stupid? confident? Perhaps, all of that. Honestly, when I look back, I applaud that girl in me that didn’t know some things in life are harder than they seem if not impossible because the woman in me now is a lot more cautious about radical moves.
But this is my most favourite failures of all. It gave me such a sense of freedom when I felt I was in total control over my own life where I could quit an unfulfilling job and go pursue a big dream. That dream didn’t happen, but something better happened instead: I met my now husband. A native Londoner, he lived in Rome then and had no desire to move back. Then things got serious, and when we weighed all options, London won as the place where both of us could work, so here we are.
My London dream came true in the end. I wasn’t how I imagined it would do but who am I to question life’s ways.
Lesson learnt: sometimes dreams come true in the most unimaginable ways, so keep dreaming.
Seven: getting purposely drunk.
I can recall two situations when I drank to get drunk. I didn’t want to relax or unwind, I wanted alcohol to properly knock me out. The first time when I didn’t pass some internal appraisal at work and the other time when I learnt that a man of my dreams got married (that man didn’t call or send any text messages in over three months, but I was convinced he was just shy).
So I downed ten shots of tequila in two hours. I vaguely remember what happened later: I talked a lot, my friends were concerned, someone drove me home and almost vomited in their car, and I crawled the last 10 metres to my bed because I couldn’t stand on my feet. If that wasn’t bad enough, then the next morning came when I wanted to chop my own head off because the hangover was too bad.
I’ve not had tequila since then. And I never drank to get drunk ever again.
Lesson learnt: don’t drink to solve your problems – you’ll still have the problems AND a drinking problem.
Eight: being human.
I forgot to switch off an iron on some occasions. I washed dark and white clothes in the same cycle. I didn’t wear sunscreen in tropical weather. I didn’t see a dentist soon enough to check a black dot on my tooth. I tried licking iron bars in freezing temperature. I killed too many houseplants to remember. I forgot friends’ birthdays. I lost wallets with cash in them. I ordered oysters in dodgy restaurants. The list goes on.
Lesson learnt: if no one was hurt or died because of your mistakes, it’s all alright.
Really, it’s all alright.
So what mistakes are you proud of?