Mistkaes Were Made? Good for You.

I was halfway past the end cap display with its stash of featured books when my brain caught up with my eyes. Intrigued, I stopped, backed up, and looked again. Reaching out, I gathered the book to me.

erasureA children’s book (although I’d argue that point), “Beautiful OOPS!” was a feast for the eyes. Its cheerful yellow cover sported a multitude of colors and a rather happy alligator peering up with delight at the primary colors and hand-drawn letters of the title. To top it off, Jamie Lee Curtis’s ringing endorsement graced the front. I couldn’t resist. The book was mine.

It took about three minutes to read (there’s some exploration involved) and in the space of a few hours I perused it another two or three times. I suggest that everyone read “Beautiful OOPS!”  I seriously think it may be even more important for adults than for kids.

Beautiful OOPS! pays tribute to mistakes — and author/illustrator Barney Saltzberg shows us just why mistakes can be wonderful things. He transforms a torn piece of paper into a grinning green alligator, and a spill of paint into a gaggle of puppies, then a nest full of birds and, finally, an elephant. In his hands a bent corner of the page becomes a penguin’s face, a coffee stain on the table turns into a frog on a lily pad, a wadded up piece of paper is the body of a not-so-fluffy but very white sheep. Mistakes, every one of them, but something marvelous arises from each error.

What Saltzberg does is show us the value of a new perspective — an important lesson for us grownups.

See, kids already know that mistakes are OK. It’s still cool to laugh at themselves and their OOPS! moments. They don’t take themselves so seriously because they know that mistakes = learning. Adults? Not so much. Adults seems to develop this weird idea that mistakes = stupidity. It’s as though somewhere between laughing at ourselves (embracing learning) and serious as a heart attack (adulthood), we crossed some invisible line that magically changes the meaning and purpose of mistakes.

The sad thing is, some of us never make it back to that childlike perspective, which is the heartbeat of learning. That’s quite possibly the biggest mistake at all.

Consider this.  In the movie, The Goonies, Mikey tells the lovely Andie, who’s already made two life-threatening mistakes at the skeletal piano, causing the ledge to crumble at their feet, “It’s OK, you’re a Goonie and Goonies always make mistakes…”

It was Albert Einstein who said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

And penicillin? A mistake. Alexander Fleming was hunting a way to fight infection, but it was his messy workbench that did it. He left for vacation, leaving behind plates with bacteria. When he got back, he found mold on one plate had created a bacteria-free circle around itself. Voila! THAT mistake changed medical history.

OOPS! I love that word. It turns the making of mistakes into something fun, with loads of potential.  “When you think you have made a mistake,” Saltzberg writes, “think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.”

I think we would be wise to embrace that perspective.

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