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The Value of Happy Accidents (And Not the Procreating Kind)

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I took a printmaking class a few years ago, and I had a fabulous teacher. The class only lasted for three months, but this teacher (and this class) managed to change my thinking in many ways.

Every time I bend over to wipe something that has fallen on the floor, I think of her saying “if you’re cleaning up your mess, clean up a little extra mess that you didn’t make.
I do it, just because that’s the good kind of girl scout I am.” I don’t always actually FOLLOW the advice, but I always, always remember it.

Something non-mundane I learned in class, something that really has affected my way of being: the concept of happy accidents. “Happy accidents,” as defined by my teacher, are those great artistic discoveries that happen when you release some control of the process and allow yourself to be curious about what might happen. Being willing to be a beginner, to be open to trying new colors or ways of looking at the piece, of taking away your attachment to how the piece works out-these acts allow you the freedom to mess up-but also the possibility that you might discover something new: that you might fall in love with a new color you might have thought you hated, or that you find a new way of holding a tool that creates a totally different effect. Either way, you have to release the need to control every moment of the process in order to have happy accidents.

When I expand this metaphor to human life, I think about the space between control and openness. I believe that we need to have the ability to make choices in order to get to where we want to go. We need the structure of being able to say “no,” and the ability to look ahead and see where we want to be, and create steps to get there. It is incredibly beneficial to have some mastery over how we spend our time and energy and resources. I firmly believe in these skills. I teach these skills to clients every day, for I believe they are essential.

However, when the control becomes TOO tight, we lose the chance of happy accidents. The happy accidents can teach us who we are, and what our hidden strengths and talents are, and, especially, clue us into the unique lens through which we view the world.

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