The Myth of Mistakes

“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”
 —Miles Davis

Mistakes are like the boogy-man. They are a myth. They exist only because we’re afraid of them.

When people talk to me about their nervousness when speaking or performing, one of their biggest fears is that they will make a mistake. They are afraid of doing something wrong, messing up, forgetting what to say and making a fool of themselves. Can you relate to this? Is this a fear of yours? If so, let me put you at ease.

There are no mistakes. What we call a “mistake” is just something we didn’t plan, didn’t prepare, and perhaps didn’t prefer to have happen. It’s not what we had in mind for some reason or other. So what!
Okay, if you’re auditioning for something, or if you have an oral exam of some kind, I can understand why you would be ultra-concerned with not messing up. But in the real world, no one cares if you forget your words or lose your train of thought. No one cares if you make a “mistake.” Really, they don’t.

The only time an audience cares about such nonsense is when they feel that YOU are uncomfortable with what’s happening. If you start feeling flustered and distracted by something unexpected, whether it’s something you said or some other surprise, then your audience will feel that, too.

My friend Bridget is a wonderful singer. What I love most about her is that sometimes she forgets her lyrics. She’ll be singing a long and then, the words won’t be there.
In that moment, the fun begins. Bridget will either make up words, or sing words about how she’s forgotten her words, and she does so with such ease and humor that her “mistake” becomes the best part of the song. Why? Because all of sudden, we, the audience, get to be a part of something alive and unexpected, something being created right there in the moment.

But more importantly, we also feel more connected to and interested in Bridget, because now she’s not just a singer singing a song, but a whole, multi-dimensional person who is revealing something she wasn’t before.

This is the most compelling reason to stop fearing supposed “mistakes” and start praying for them! Those unplanned, unexpected burps in your program, speech or song hold rich opportunities create a new level of intimacy, trust and connection between you and your audience.

People relate to people, not a bunch of words or a bunch of songs spilling out at them from a stage. The moment you let go of your agenda and welcome the spontaneous, unplanned moments, you make room for a genuine connection based on a level of trust that can’t be created if you need to be in control all the time.

So, welcome those unexpected moments, those supposed “mistakes.” Lean into them and milk them for all the juicy, real, genuine-connection goodness they offer. When you can let down your guard and get real, your audience will let down their guard as well. Then, the fun can begin.

2 replies
  1. Maria Hess
    Maria Hess says:

    You are so right Nancy. In lecturing in front of audiences of 100+ I have learned to let go and have fun with who I am, what I know, and the generosity of my audience.I know people want me to do well and if I can bring them into it with a hiccup, then they want to do well too! So I go from being a solo “act” to one with a cast of characters.

    Congratulations on your new blog, the beautiful website and the upcoming Dino radio! I love it all. Also I want to put a bug in your ear…I would love to be interviewed for your podcast and hope you will keep me in mind for the future!

    Thanks for all that you do and give!
    Love, and all good things!


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