Really, It’s OK to Make Mistakes

I make mistakes and I’m OK with that. Take my coffee maker as an example. My Keurig machine produces one cup at a time. Of course I make a cup in the morning, but I also have a mug after dinner, on my way to the woodshop.

For traveling to the shop, I have an insulated cup that’s too tall to fit the coffee maker. I make a cup in a regular mug, then make the transfer to the travel mug.

One evening, as I pushed the brew button, I forgot to put the coffee cup under the spout. Hot, steaming coffee spilled from the machine like Old Faithful working in reverse. Coming to my senses, I quickly shoved a cup under the spout. The coffee maker finished its cycle, and I had a mess to clean up due to the collection of liquid dispersed into the cup stand (not to mention I had a less-than-full cup of coffee).

As I pulled the stand from the coffee maker,   much to my surprise I uncovered a second cup stand located directly below the normal stand I used on an everyday basis. It seemed my travel mug would, indeed, fit the machine. No more did I need to transfer between cups. If I hadn’t made a mistake (forgetting to put the cup in position), I would not have discovered the lower stand.

Clearly, mistakes in life provide more information than doing something correctly. The same holds true for woodworking. I’ve always learned more from mistakes than from doing an operation right the first time.

Once the mistake is made, you assess the steps, find where you veered off course or when the problem first appeared, and know what not to do the next time. A lesson is learned, albeit a sometimes costly education. And the feedback from a mistake is immediate – the mortise and tenon is sloppy, the dovetail joint doesn’t fit or the topcoat has an unsightly sag – and the lesson is appreciated because it cost you either money or time. And time is the most costly of the two.

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