So, I sit here at my desk after an exam that could only be described as horrible, contemplating getting cheesecake from a nearby place that is aptly named The Cheesecake Shop and I wonder to myself, “what was it all for?” with a slightly depressed mood. The contents of my course still largely eludes me, but at least it’s largely over, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. With next year comes a dissertation, worth a whopping twenty percent of my final grade, as well as a menagerie of other modules that will make up another forty percent. The upside to this is that I’ve taken a different approach to next year than this year. I asked myself, concerning module choices, “which of these modules looks like it’s the easiest and least likely to contain much coding or software development? Which ones look like they cater to my very different skill set?” as opposed to looking at which modules looked the most interesting, regardless of how much coding they involved as I still believed myself to be a computer scientist. I sent an email to my potential supervisor for my dissertation next year and asked about the possibility for doing a research orientated dissertation as opposed to the more common, practical approach that computer scientists generally take. Also, there will be resit examinations this summer for sure as there is no way in hell I passed some of those, but that’s comparatively manageable.
So, past my sob story of how I fail at being a computer scientist, what is the point of this article? Well, I want to talk about mistakes. We all make mistakes, large and small, inconsequential or important, they are a central part of the human life cycle and our primary way of learning. Some people say that we all make mistakes, but it is not a bad thing unless you don’t learn from it. However, my experiences have caused me to view this statement with suspicion and disagreement, albeit not total in either case.
Starting with agreement, I do agree that we should learn from our mistakes. If we make a mistake and then do not learn from it, then it can only be viewed as destructive. There is no betterment of the self from mistakes that we do not learn from. Luckily for us, survival instincts generally kick in when we make them and even if we do not acknowledge the it, we sub-consciously start thinking, “that was a bad experience, I’d better not do that again,” and so the it is an educational experience to some degree. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I believe that they are the best way to learn due to the fact that the negativity that comes with making a mistake generally does steer the person away from doing that ever again. We all make them, nobody is perfect, they are easy to learn from, so they must be a good thing.
However, now comes the part where I disagree with the statement. Whilst the above paragraph may seem like all roses and rainbows concerning mistakes, it can be inherently flawed by another aspect of some human behaviour. Arrogance. Learning from a mistake first means that the person has to acknowledge the mistake and accept the fact that they made it, a task that some of us find difficult to perform. This can be argued as making a further mistake after the first one and the point can be contested over an infinite loop of mistakes as opposed to just one mistake that isn’t learned from. I will concede to that point as it does make sense, in theory, though as with most points it can be debated until the cows come home. As we know, or at least should know, everything is relative, so where does the magnitude of a mistake become destructive as opposed to the constructive, educational side? Going back to the original point of mistakes not being a bad thing if you learn from them, I’d interpret that as the educational benefits offsetting the negative impact of the original mistake. Let me bring around the point of my failures in my exams. I have come to the realisation that I have never really been a scientist or mathematician in the past few months. I was always pushed towards it by parents and teachers alike because I was good with logical reasoning, basic algebra and arithmetic, though I never showed much promise in any of the science subjects, and I hit a very solid wall during my further mathematics A-level. My GCSE options were heavily language and humanities based, taking only dual science as it was the minimum that they allowed at my school, along with an array of optional languages and humanities subjects. The overall shove towards sciences and mathematics in my life led to an irrational fear of reading and writing which was only worsened when my family had to pack up and move country due to the credit crunch severely affecting us back in the mid to late 2000s, and my new school reinforced this notion, again pushing me onto more mathematical or science-based subjects. I now study computer science at University and have finally realised and come to terms with my mistake, but how constructive is it? I’m now twenty one years old, twenty two in just over a month, on a University course with a concrete set of poorly graded A-levels and looking at the looming prospect of a terrible job market. My degree will qualify me for a lot of software engineering jobs, or other such technologically orientated career. I look at these jobs in slight horror at how utterly dull, boring and difficult they will be for me. I do not like studying computers, all the talks that we’ve had at University have been informative in helping me to see how much I do not want to go into that market. I wanted to write that rather long-winded anecdote to give an example of a large mistake. Perhaps I should consider myself lucky for realising it now, when there’s still something I can do about it, but how much of a benefit is this? Is this lesson really worth it?
The real question here is: When do mistakes go from beneficial to negative? My belief, from personal experiences, is that it is beneficial in the long run. Regardless of the magnitude, our mistakes are beneficial if they are acknowledged and learned from, whether it provides a lesson for us as developing people or our children, siblings, friends and other family members, if the lesson is learned and passed on, then we’re building a better society for our race. However, in the short run, not all mistakes are beneficial. My accounted mistake, for example, is not beneficial in the short run as I’m going to have around thirty two thousand pounds of debt to pay, with a relatively useless degree to show for it, but at least I can advise my younger sister, as well as my future children, to follow their passions when it comes to academia and not the pressures of others. I will conclude this article with a great quote by a great man: “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead.” – John Maynard Keynes (5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946).