We Can’t Make Mistakes on Purpose, So We Have to Take What We Can Get

High-wire artists Phillippe Petit says mistakes are our very best teachers.

We Can’t Make Mistakes on Purpose, So We Have to Take What We Can Get

It would be absolutely reasonable to assume that someone famous for tightrope-walking across a cable strung between the old twin Trade Center towers in New York, 1,350 feet up in the air, would hate mistakes. But it would be wrong.


  • Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Philippe Petit, the subject of the 2008 documentary Man on a Wire and the protagonist of the 2015 drama The Walk, thinks mistakes are great—though presumably not the high-wire kind. He sees each error as an opportunity for learning we wouldn't otherwise have. “Mistakes are out best teachers," he says.

    Of course we do our best to avoid them, and we're inclined to view each mistake as (at least a small) failure. But that's the wrong idea, according to Petit. He sees each mistake as a “gift."

    Petit's thinking is there are the things we set out to learn, and then there are the lessons we stumble over when we err—equally valuable lessons, but things that might never cross our minds if we didn't happen to screw up just so. It's an accidental curriculum, and it's a great way for us to learn unexpected things that make us better—and smarter—people.



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