Life is messy, so it’s a good idea to make some big messes. We can play it safe, live life safely and strive to avoid mess. We can try hard to make the smallest messes possible, including the smallest and fewest mistakes possible. But living to minimize messes and mistakes almost guarantees our living a seriously cautious, constricted life.
Sure, on our deathbeds we might take satisfaction in having limited the messes and mistakes we made in our lives. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. That may be a greater mistake than all the mistakes we might credit ourselves for having avoided.
To put it differently, we can live to minimize the messes we make in our lives, but the risk is that, in doing so, we could end up living minimally.
To be clear, I’m not advocating making a mess of our lives; I am advocating that we allow ourselves the freedom to make messes in our lives.
Imagine you’re an aspiring artist, facing a blank canvas, terrified to make the canvas messy. You’re so concerned to preserve the purity of the canvas that you avoid painting. Or imagine you’re an aspiring writer, facing a blank page or screen, scared to fill it with messy words. So, you don’t write. You can enjoy the empty self-congratulation for having left the page unsullied with your messy, imperfect words.
In both these hypothetical instances, perhaps you’d feel you’d dodged a bullet and scored one less messy mark on your life’s resume. And that, arguably, would be true. But at what cost?
How about relationships? Maybe you’ve been in a slew of bad ones and now balk at exploring new ones? Maybe you’d rather cut your losses and remove yourself from the circuit…to limit your sense of/fear of your relationship incompetence?
Meanwhile Joe, across the street, is on his fifth marriage and appears, at 72, to have finally figured it out. Sure, Joe’s latest wife came via Amazon Prime in a huge Amazon box from Poland. Sure, she didn’t speak a lick of English, and still doesn’t. But that’s okay with Joe. He got it right, for himself, after a lot of wrongs.
You, meanwhile, will have to judge how proud you’ll feel to say, “I played it safe. I contained the relationship wreckage. And I accomplished that mainly through my willful avoidance of relationships the last 20 years.”
I appreciate there are different ways to see this; that it comes down to subjective priorities. Still, I propose living in such a way that we ensure we make a whole bunch of messes along the way, big ones too. And a whole bunch of mistakes, including big ones.
Because when we stop living in immobilizing fear of making big messes and big mistakes, we give ourselves the chance to live big.