The Story Economy Blog

Messing Up is a Best Practice, Too

hands on computerI have messed up so many times over the years that I’ve come to a conclusion: messing up is a best practice.

I’m not talking about failure. Failure is trendy right now, inspiring conferences and motivational speeches.

No, I’m talking about the hindsight that shows you all the ways you’ve just plain messed up. Went about it the wrong way. Recommended the wrong thing to a client. Expressed one idea, when it would have been so much better to express another. I’m talking about all of those “what was I thinking?” moments.

Trying and failing implies some sort of courageous effort. Failure stories are inspirational. You learn from them, and then write rallying-cry blog posts about them!

By contrast, messing up stories are sort of a downer. They’re not very inspiring. They mostly make you feel stupid. It’s not like you really went for something and failed. You just did what you always do, and you now see it was not all that.

Sometimes you see it’s not all that the very moment you’re doing it. Like the way my husband and I will be inconsistent on disciplining the kids. We know we’re messing up literally right that second when they won’t go to bed and we’re yelling stupid stuff.

But, oh, these things are hard.

Nothing will show you your misses, bombs, and letdowns like redoing your web site. I know, because I'm in the process of redoing mine right now.

What’s particularly disturbing is how you can think you got it so right, and it seemed so right for so long . . . until one day, you woke up and realized it should be completely different. Maybe not “completely,” but significantly. A few shades, at least. Such realizations inspire questions like:

  • Why in the world did I ever set it up like that?

  • Why did that seem like a good idea? Literally, what was in my head the very day I hit “publish” on that?

  • Who talked me into that, and why did I listen?

  • What did I talk someone else into because of it?

  • Did I seriously think I was going to market that?


When you build something new (or write something new or design something new—or, for that matter, bring a new baby or hamster home), it’s one big happy moment of best practices. Your soul just feels lighter. I’m going to get it absolutely right this time, you say.

Way back when I was a good Catholic girl, I remember the nuns talking about how clean your soul was after you confessed your sins to the priest. I can’t say I ever believed it, but I remember their pink-cheeked enthusiasm. It was such a nice idea. A pure new start!

So we relaunch, bright-eyed and sure this is it.

And then, day two comes. It still looks good. You still have the latest. You’re still on trend.

But day three or year three or whatever measure of time it is . . . that’s when you realized you may have messed up.


So you remake it. Again.

And that, my friend, is the best of best practices there is. It’s totally humiliating. Failure is so spectacular and glamorous. But keeping current and pushing yourself to continually do it better when you know it will all change too soon? That’s the stuff of real professionals. You know hindsight might be unkind, but you do it anyway.

Keep messing up! I know I will.

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