Life is Not a Pass/Fail Test

February 6, 2013

In my psychotherapy practice in Baltimore, I see a great deal of emotional pain caused by the view that life is a series of pass / fail tests.  “I chose the wrong job, the wrong wife, the wrong plants for the garden. Hence, I am a failure.”  This attitude is reinforced by the most optimistic adage we have for less-than-optimal outcomes:  Learn from your mistakes.  Even worse, people can become paralyzed in making any decisions if undesired outcomes are generally framed as mistakes.  I propose an alternative viewpoint:

Life is a series of experiments.

Do some experiments and learn about yourself.  Unlike the simplest electronic gadgets, a human body has no user’s guide – no guide for how to create success and contentment.  Creating a satisfying life using our biological endowment and learning history requires experimenting to find out with what we’re good at and what we’re not, what works for us and what doesn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t.

Do some experiments.  Make a decision and collect data about the outcome:  I like this / I don’t like this.  Regardless of the outcome, you haven’t passed or failed:  you’ve learned something new about yourself.


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