How my mom taught me it’s ok to make mistakes

When I was eight years old, I decided I was old enough to cook by myself. I informed my mom of my confidence in myself, and she—in her ever-present wisdom—agreed to let me try. I picked out something simple to bake…chocolate chip cookies. I had made them with her many times, sitting on the counter, snatching bits of dough as we formed the cookies into balls. But, this time, I was determined to do it myself.

I carefully set about gathering the ingredients and mixing them together in our big ceramic bowl, following the directions carefully. As I added the chocolate chips, I smiled to myself, proud that the dough looked perfect. I scooped out the cookies and lined them up neatly on the cookie sheet. Before I put them in the oven, Mom came by and snatched a bit of dough, as I had always done to her.

Suddenly her face changed, eyes narrowing as if considering something.

“What?” I asked, my confidence faltering. “Did I do something wrong?”

“It just tastes a little salty,” she replied, still considering the bite she had taken. “How much salt did you use?”

“A half teaspoon,” I replied defensively.

“Hmm…How much baking soda?” she tried again.

“A half cup,” I said matter-of-factly. “That’s what the recipe said.”

Her eyebrows raised as she reached for the recipe. “Megan, it says a half teaspoon.”

My eyes widened. I looked at the recipe, and then at my mom. And the tears came.

I’ve never been one who handles failure particularly well. The perfectionist in me hates to disappoint others or myself in any way. Even though it was something as small as a batch of cookies, I was mortified that I hadn’t done it right. How could I have missed it? I had read the recipe carefully and tried to measure everything so exactly, to prove that I could do this on my own.

Being the wonderful mother that she is, my mom took me in her arms, reassured me that it wasn’t a big deal, and said that it was a mistake anyone might have made (despite the fact that I’m sure she was laughing inside at how ridiculous it is to put that much baking soda in ANYTHING).

But what I love most about this memory, is that she didn’t just throw away the cookie dough and say, “Oh well, we’ll try another day.” No, she took me to the store right then to buy more ingredients (I’m pretty sure I’d used up all the baking soda), and when we came home she let me try again. This time, I really did follow the directions carefully, and we had some great cookies to eat while we laughed at the whole adventure.

This experience has stayed with me over the years. In such a simple moment, my mother taught me two important things. First, she helped me see that it’s okay to make mistakes. Second, she taught me that you don’t just accept failure when it comes; you learn from it and try again until you succeed. As I’ve contemplated these lessons over the years, I have seen them benefit my life in so many ways.

It’s okay to make mistakes

It’s tempting sometimes to stay in the “safe zone” where we only do things that we are comfortable with and confident in our ability to succeed. But, as Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus always said, we need to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” It’s only when we go beyond what we know that we learn what we are really capable of. Sometimes that means we’ll fall down, or lose a competition, or make inedible cookies. But, with each mistake, we come one step closer to success. We learn what DOESN’T work, and—if we pay attention—we can slowly learn what DOES work. As I’ve applied this, I’ve stopped beating myself up as much for all the little mistakes and focused instead on what I can learn and improve from them.

Don’t accept failure; learn from it and try again until you succeed

It’s all well and good to say, “mistakes are the portals of discovery” (James Joyce), but it’s important to remember that mistakes themselves are NOT the discovery. We can’t just say, “Well, I made a mistake. That’s okay,” and then go on with our lives if we expect to progress. There is no discovery in the “oops”. There is, however, discovery in asking “why” after the “oops.” There is discovery in looking at the oops and using it to inform future actions. That’s why I love that my mom took the time and spent the money to make sure I learned how to make successful cookies. She took me through the process of learning from my mistakes, and showed me that I could succeed.

I’m forever grateful for that small experience that prepared me to deal with much bigger mistakes I’d make in life. Mothers really do know best.

RECIPE: THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES EVER

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