Life Lesson #3 – Don’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

Science history is full of mistakes. You will seldom meet a scientist who hasn’t stumbled onto something by accident, had an experiment go awry, or just plain messed s%$t up.

Sometimes scientists didn’t so much make mistakes as just getting it plain wrong. Lots of really smart people were into alchemy, which is the idea that you can change one element to another, like lead into gold. Others believed for centuries that the Earth was the center of the universe, and some even believed that the Earth was only 6,000 years old (Some people actually still believe this. If you believe this, you should probably read this blog with an open mind and learn some science.). Of course, we know now that each of these things are wrong. As our collective scientific hiveminds grew, we all moved forward as a society.

Beautiful Mistakes

Sometimes mistakes benefit society in ways that no one could have predicted. You know plastic, right? It’s pretty much everywhere and we wouldn’t know what to do without it. Well, it turns out that the man who invented it was just looking to make a shellac alternative.  In the mid-1960s, two Americans that worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories accidentally discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation that had been predicted decades earlier.

The best example of a beautiful mistake is probably penicillin. Before penicillin was around, many people died from bacterial infections that we don’t think twice about today. such as strep throat, gonorrhea, and pneumonia. According to the American Chemical Society, in 1928, Alexander Fleming was a Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. As he returned from a holiday to his lab, Fleming began sorting through petri dishes filled with Staphylococcus bacterium. He noticed that one dish was a little peculiar – the bacterium weren’t growing around some  mold that had found its way onto the petri dish. Fleming found that his “mold juice” could kill many harmful bacteria.

If at First You Don’t Succeed. . .

Of course, not every great invention was “accidentally” discovered. The vast majority of scientific advancements were made through painstaking, backbreaking work. But every time a scientist conducts an experiment in which nothing “worked”, this still leads to an enhancement of science. Science lets us look at what works and what doesn’t work. Experiments are meant to help us figure this out. How will we move forward and grow without mistakes?

I played basketball in high school. When I was a freshman, instead of playing for fun, I was afraid of making mistakes. Therefore, I didn’t play as well as I could have. I often think back about that time and wish I could tell my younger self to just go out and have fun.

I try to remember this advice every day, both in my professional and home life. Go out. Live. Do. Don’t be afraid.

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