“Something else happened instead”

I have taken to listening to TED talks when I wake up in the middle of the night and find that I can’t get back to sleep. It’s a pretty shit strategy for curing insomnia, but it gives me lots to think about when I am awake.

A few days ago, I stumbled over a talk ‘on being wrong’. I wanted to share it here because it shifted my mindset a little and gave me some thoughts that I want to take into my life. Like –

“The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It is that you can see the world as it isn’t”.

I have written before about making mistakes and learning through experience; but Kathryn Schulz’s talk is as much about how it feels to be right as it is about how it feels to realise you are wrong. This is the subtle difference: because we assume that we are right (“you think your beliefs perfectly reflect reality”), we often only realise that we are wrong after the error has been shown. And because being wrong is positioned as an unacceptable; and because it jars with our previous sense of being right; and because it is actually quite painful (“getting something wrong means there’s something wrong with us”) – we’re programmed to avoid getting it wrong – or even seeing that we’ve got it wrong – and kind of caught in a double bind.

Watch the video. She explains it better than I can:

So I have been trying to think of examples of times when I have been going merrily along in one direction and then realised that my sense of the ‘right’ direction has been proven wildly off key. Instances when I’ve got it completely wrong and what this has meant.

Some of these – like spending the first twenty years of my life visualising the town that I grew up in as being below London rather than above it – just illustrate the gap between being wrong and the realisation of it; and some of them – like eagerly awaiting a letter of invitation, only to be faced with a short rejection note – re-invoke the humiliation and the pain. Some have been easily made and quickly learnt from – like getting a Birthday wrong or spending a day focusing on a misinterpretation of the task; and others – like realising that the man you thought you were meant to spend your life with is not the man you are meant to spend your life with – have been far more complicated and the impact, felt over many years.

Sometimes the fear of being wrong has prevented the possibility of being right or, even, of learning from the mistake.  Sometimes, an awareness of being wrong has been stifled because the misperception is buried so unspeakably deep. And sometimes, being wrong is the best thing that can happen, because the misplaced belief is so damaging and the reality, oh so much better than I could have imagined –

“I thought this one thing was going to happen and something else happened instead.”

I have been wrong about quite a lot of things in my life. I have spent a long time heading in totally the wrong direction; been focused on things that are really of little importance; formed a view of the world that was unfairly distrustful and distinctly bleak. I hid, for a long time, because “I thought this one thing was going to happen” – and what I unexpectedly and delightedly found, when I stopped hiding, was that “something else happened instead”.

I guess this is the message which this talk has articulated for me, though it’s taken me a while to get there… That “right” and “wrong” are far more complicated than I had imagined; and that sometimes, it can be hugely liberating to appreciate fallibility and realise where I have been wrong.


8 responses to ““Something else happened instead”

  1. I cannot add a single thing to this, other than:

    You are so right.
    (Or so wrong 🙂 )


    • The irony is that I was almost too scared to publish this in case I was “wrong”… Doh. Then I realised that it was okay to have a discussion. And that I’d rather get my thoughts out there 😉

  2. Yes, as always… yes.
    The road to being worried that I was completely wrong has sometimes prevented me from learning and from enjoying the experience of being right.
    Thank you Issa!

    • Yes. This reminded me of those moments at school when you don’t put your hand up incase you’re wrong, and then the next person says what you were thinking are is right! I am also recognising that I have been right in a very narrow life, but would rather have been wrong a few times in a far wider one. xx

  3. [sighs] Yes, yes and yes…

    The difficulty is in realising you are (or were) wrong, then holding your hands up and admitting it to yourself or others and then – and this is might even be harder than actually realising it – it’s acknowledging that being wrong doesn’t make you wrong. It’s all right to be wrong and acknowledging it enables you to correct errors and get things right in the future.

    Thought-provoking as always, Issa and as always, you are right on. Thanks for sharing! 😀

  4. “being wrong doesn’t make you wrong” – has taken me years to get to this point. And that saying one wrong thing doesn’t make you a terrible person; and one mistake doesn’t mean that you are condemned to fail. xx

  5. Very true. In saying this though it doesnt mean dont strive for your goals cause it wont happen. It means great things happen by striving for goals, even if its not real. Edmund Hillary strived to conquer everest, but afterwards he said- it’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. I think that has some relevance.

  6. I love that quote and I think you’re right – it’s important to strive for your goals but also to be aware that there may be more benefits/lessons than the one that you started out focusing on. 🙂

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