I have a new driver in my home–my daughter. I have loved teaching my kids to drive and have enjoyed the opportunity to see them grow in independence and skill. Aside from the occasional scare, it has been a good experience. However, I recognize that not all parents and driving instructors have the same good experience as I have had. In fact, some drivers make mistakes and get so scared they do not ever want to drive again. I know people in their mid-20’s who are just getting a driver license because of the fear they had when younger. The fear of making mistakes can paralyze even the best of us. A young driver afraid of messing up on the road may decide to never drive again. This is not wise. We must keep going. We must push past the mistakes and keep working. It is crucial. I had a powerful experience that has helped me when I face my mistakes.
In high school and college, I enjoyed playing in the jazz band! It was a time of great fun, great friends, and great growth. The thrill of working hard and then coming together for a concert was the best! I had the opportunity to play in many venues with many different artists. A couple of times, I had the privilege of performing with professional jazz musicians. Such a great experience! One of those experiences helped me more than I expected at the time.
One of the most difficult aspects of playing jazz is improvisation. This is where a jazz musician is given a period of time to make up the music they will play–on the spot! It is normally in the middle of a jazz piece. There is a chord structure and a certain number of measures to work in, but the musician is responsible for the notes and the tune! It can be very scary to improvise. Many young jazz players are afraid to even try. Then, when they do try, they are so afraid of making mistakes. I felt my share of those feelings–in both categories.
Then, while performing with a professional jazz musician in a county jazz festival, I learned a lesson which helped me in jazz and in the rest of my life. He told us when we were up there improvising to keep going. Then, he said, “If you make a mistake, do it again.” He then joked, “Then, people will think it was on purpose.” But, there was another lesson in there too. One I learned the very next concert.
I had a long and large improvised solo in a piece I enjoyed playing. The auditorium was packed with people, many my friends, and family. I was quite nervous about my solo and it had shown in rehearsals. I was not sure how I would do. When it came time, you guessed it! I made a big mistake. Then, I did as the professional instructed. I repeated the mistake. In fact, I repeated it with emphasis. Then, I moved on and found myself modifying the mistake into a melody now fitting within the chord structure. To my surprise, I received the most applause I had ever received. I felt I had messed up. Yet, had I really messed up?
After the concert, I received a lot of back pounding and “That was so awesome!” from my friends. It was an incredible night! Yet, I could not clearly see what had been so great. Pondering on it, I came to see an incredible life lesson in the experience which would stick with me later in life. It was not the fact I made a mistake, it was what I chose to do with it that made the difference. It was a fact I had messed up (kind of big!) in the solo. Yet, I chose to keep going, turning the mistake into a beautiful melody. Then, I played on.
I have learned in my life that there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. You can stop playing when it happens. You can keep playing but do so timidly and full of fear. Or, you can make it again and then play on. Even more, I learned the audience is more interested in what you do with the melody than the mistakes you make. I do not believe any of my friends remembered the mistake, but they remember what I did with it.
While I would not encourage making mistakes again on the road, we need not fear mistakes like we often think we should. They are only temporary setbacks on the road of life. To be sure, life is a lot like that solo that day. If you make a mistake, make it a part of the melody you create and play on! Quickly get back behind the wheel and drive on! Take the chance that you may make a mistake again and keep going. You will likely do better than you think!
So, to my daughter, and all you other new drivers, please don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Be afraid of never getting the places you want to go! Everyone makes mistakes. It is what you do with them that counts.