Everyday adventure: Mistakes
Have you ever considered the origin of the word ‘adventure’? It’s instructive. Two Latin stems, ‘ad’ meaning ’to’ and ‘venire’ meaning 'to come’, combined to form ‘advenire’. Later, in old French, this became ‘aventure’ - a chance or accidental occurrence. By the time this reached thirteenth-century Middle English, it came to mean something that involves luck and risking loss to defeat.
Tracing the original meaning of the word reminds us that it’s at the essence of adventure to take chances and risk. It’s not about being a daredevil, a buccaneer, or an exhibitionist. It’s about trying something that involves jeopardy. Something that could fail. Something that involves a risk that we are consciously and willingly taking.
'Trying something that might not work’ is a phrase Seth Godin uses in describing the act of creation, not just in entrepreneurship but in any art or endeavour that means we may fail. And often fail publicly.
This intersection with creativity and work tells us something about adventure and risk. Risk taking is often wrongly understood to be something inherent in entrepreneurs and creators - an idea that they chase and take wild risks, and see inherent value in doing so. In fact, creators simply evaluate risk differently. They perceive good risks and bad risks, and therefore ones that are worth taking and ones that should be avoided. For good risks offer opportunity - they inherently involve the potential for failure but also offer the potential for rewards that outweigh this.
What separates most of us from experiencing the world as creators, artists and founders is how we perceive risk and, more importantly, how we perceive failure. You may have seen variations of this question before: is it more risky to quit your secure but unfulfilling job to pursue an idea or opportunity that makes you feel alive, or is it more risky in the long-run to stay in a job that gradually stunts your growth and impinges your happiness? Our brains are tuned to consider risks and gains in the present rather than weigh them against a future outcome - it’s why the whole world of finance exists.
So why, even when presented with the evidence, do we not take more risks? Why don’t more of us take on the adventurer mentality? One thing stops us. Fear. More specifically, fear of mistakes, failure and the judgement that comes with them.
Mistakes, we are told, in business, teaching and parenting, are crucial to our development. The feedback from a mistake is more valuable for learning than a success, and also more enjoyable and we remove the expectation of success. Yet, society (including in the fields mentioned above) punish us for mistakes. We’re taught that risk and failure are bad.
Maybe the answer lies in the problem. If mistakes and risk bring us learning and joy, maybe this is why so many people seek adventure in their lives outside the structures of work and family. Adventure provides a canvas for us to take risks, try things that might not work, fail and then repeat all over again, whilst having a lot of fun.
And maybe, over time, the more we practice adventure in our spare time, it can influence what we’re willing to try and achieve in our professional and creative lives?