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Career Coach: Celebrate Your Mistakes

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson talks about the fear of failure and overcoming it.

Pamela Kleibrink

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”-- Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle

Every October we celebrate a huge failure in America on Columbus Day.  The Spanish crown funded Columbus’s voyage hoping to gain advantage over others in the lucrative spice trade by finding an alternative route to the East Indies. Columbus was unsuccessful in his quest.  Instead, on October 12, he landed in the Bahamas archipelago and discovered a land that was rich in resources and already inhabited by people. After failing in his original mission, Columbus discovered America by accident.

Don’t be afraid to fail.  Failure can be eye-opening and life changing.

Here are two more mistakes that give us reason to celebrate.

In 1930, Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, was mixing a batch of chocolate cookies and found out she was out of baker’s chocolate.  She substituted sweetened chocolate, expecting the small pieces would melt and the dough would absorb them, making chocolate cookies.  But when she took the pan from the oven, Wakefield was surprised that the chocolate had not melted into the dough and she had not baked chocolate cookies.   Instead, her mistake, not having baker’s chocolate on hand, led to the invention of Toll House Cookies, also known as chocolate chip cookies.

In 1970, Spencer Silver was working for 3M Company trying to find a strong adhesive.  Instead he failed–the new adhesive he invented was weaker than anything they already made.  It would stick but could be easily lifted off.  It wasn’t thrown out, but no one knew what to do with it.  Four years later Arthur Fry, another 3M scientist, used Silver’s weak glue on the markers in his hymnal to keep them in place.  The weak glue kept the markers in place and they could be lifted off and reused without ripping the hymnal pages.  Fry sang the praises to God in his church choir and lauded the weak glue to 3M.  Post-It Notes started selling nationwide in 1980, ten years after Silver invented the super weak adhesive–one super mistake.

Embrace your mistakes and forgive yourself if you are not successful in achieving the goal you had in mind.  The results from your mistakes could lead you into new directions, or, as in Columbus’ case, a whole new world.  Celebrate your mistakes this October and all year.  “There is glory in a great mistake,” wrote Nathalia Crane.  There may be glory in small ones too.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach, speaker and writer.  She is learning not to dwell on her mistakes.  She contributed to the books Eclectic Collage 1 and Eclectic Collage 2: The Relationships of Life  which you can find on and  You can reach Pamela at