Portals of Discovery

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

– James Joyce

OOF! Of all the failure reframe quotes out there on the interwebs, this one is a doozy. I never made it through Ulysses, the book from which this quote originates, so I can’t comment on it’s relevance to the story, but Joyce’s words are often held up on their own for us to pull meaning and wisdom about mistakes in general.

Mistakes. Disappointing, and at times, brutal. I totally get why folx want to pretend that mistakes are not inevitable parts of everyone’s life. It’s tempting to imagine that there are special people, genius people, who are exempt from making mistakes, that these heroes possess special qualities that make them impervious to failure. Each error a planned event, a sort of experiment, testing out a hypothesis. But like when we trip on uneven pavement and loudly exclaim, “I meant to do that!” the myth of the impervious genius is not describing reality. Sorry, Friends. Joyce was, after all, a storyteller.

The notion is dangerous, though, because it perpetuates the idea that mistakes are shameful. If super smart people can be mistake free, maybe, if we try hard enough, we can be like them, figure out their secret, and avoid the pain of mistakes in our own lives. As if that is the goal- to never make mistakes, to never fail, to never fall.

The more I embrace mistakes as part of the human experience, the more I am able to see them as opportunities and, as Joyce describes, “portals of discovery” not only for genius people, but accessible to all of us. That doesn’t mean that I enjoy being in the midst of mistakes…or fresh from a new failure, but it does help me ride out the low points and remember to reach out to others, because we all can relate to the experience of having messed up. We all can help pick each other up and move forward.

We can’t think our way to a mistake free life. No one is born with an extraordinary ability to choose when to gain insight. One of the best things about mistakes is that absolutely everyone makes them – it’s one of the few commonalities that binds us together. We are here to support each other in making meaning from our failures. Our portals of discovery are created by relationship. Relationship is my resilience superpower.

If you’d like to be resilient in community, check out my project Unbroken: Accessing (Y)Our Resilience


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