Monday, July 4th, 2011...9:34 am

#157: Don’t Fear the Wrong

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Some old people, even some who are not my husband, are so afraid of being wrong — of feeling insecure, inexpert, foolish, stupid, whatever — that they work very hard at being right all the time. Or at least, at not being wrong, not doing or saying the wrong thing.

What’s, well, wrong with that?, you may ask. I mean, now that your ass has fallen, your gums have receded, your memory is shot, and your kids hate you, haven’t you earned the right to at least know what you’re doing? Being able to roast a perfect chicken without a recipe or a meat thermometer, rattling off the capital of North Dakota without the aid of Wikipedia — this sort of all-around expertise is all you’ve got left, goddammit!

But, according to Alina Tugend, author of the wonderful new book Better By Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, our fear of being wrong and our need to be right can actually hold us — and yeah, that means you, honey — back in life.

“If you live in constant terror of goofing up, research has shown you’re less likely to be take risks and be creative,” Tugend says. “Those who fear goofing up also have a hard time listening to any kind of negative feedback, and therefore don’t learn from their errors and move forward – on the job and in life.”

At the same time I was mulling the wisdom of Tugend’s book, business guru Seth Godin sent out this blog post with a similar message: Fear of being wrong can keep you from taking the kinds of chances required to improve your life.

The good news, according to Tugend: As you get older, you can actually become more willing to let go of wrong-o-phobia and so take positive risks. “I actually find it easier to move out of my comfort zone in trying new things than I used to because I’m not AS worried about what people think,” she says. “That doesn’t mean I’ll embrace looking like a fool, but the benefits of learning something new – if it’s something I really want to learn – outweighs the fear of failing.”

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