From the age of 12, all I wanted to do was be an engineer. Specifically, I wanted to be a civil engineer. I wanted to design buildings and bridges and roads, maybe even roller coasters. I wanted to build things.
I planned my school career around this goal, dropping arts and social science classes and taking on math, physics, and technology courses instead. I chose a degree program in civil engineering, found summer internships every year, and even earned a Master’s degree in earthquake engineering and structural dynamics.
Armed with my credentials, I strode out into the world, ready to fulfill my long-term dream. I found my first job, with a reputable company in downtown Los Angeles…
…and I hated it.
I hated being cooped up in an office, tapping data into a computer. I hated being indoors. I hated working the 9-5 grind. I hated that I wasn’t creating anything more than reams of data.
So I found a new job, with a smaller company, where I’d have more chance to work outdoors and be more hands-on with individual projects.
I was miserable there, too.
After three years, I came to a stunning conclusion: After spending well over a decade pursuing a dream, it turned out I didn’t want to be an engineer after all. And so, I quit. I took my education and my stack of degrees and went off to figure out what I wanted to do instead.
Was a movie double
Sold phone plans
Did marketing for a bank
Worked for a sailing magazine
Sold Christmas trees
…and finally figured out I wanted to be a writer. I found the work I love to do.
I don’t regret any of it because none of that time was wasted. Going to college introduced me to people from all over the world. It taught me discipline, research, and how to make cool spreadsheets. Through my program, I got to work in France, travel to eastern Turkey, and finally land in California. It also gave me transferrable skills that got me a job with a bank, where I discovered my neglected creativity.
Most of all, by finding out through experience what I didn’t want to be, I got to discover who I really am and what inspires me, something many people never get to do.
Author Neil Gaiman wrote a wonderful quote on his blog last week. He said this:
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.
So, yes, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Do something, even if you’re worried it’s the wrong thing. Because even mistakes teach us something, about the world, about others, and, most of all, about ourselves.