The Joy of Being Wrong

Dr. Andrew Lyne is one of the world’s eminent astronomers.  In 1991, Dr. Lyne and a colleague startled the astronomy world by announcing they found a planet circling another star.  After they made the announcement, they checked their work and discovered an error.  Their conclusion was wrong.  It’s not hard to imagine the anxiety that they went through in how to let their scientific community know of their error.  When Dr. Lyne announced the error at the American Astronomical Society, he received a standing ovation.  The audience was acknowledging the courage and integrity of admitting that an error was made.

In his book, Think Again, Adam Grant emphasizes the need to challenge what we believe if we are to make continuing progress.  When we challenge our beliefs, we may find out they were wrong or no longer valid.  But how can being wrong ever be considered joyful?

Think of the pride you had growing up when you learned how to do something right?  Why can’t we find joy as adults in learning from our mistakes?  We need to refocus what makes us proud from trying to prove we are right to improving ourselves.  Having an unyielding attachment to our beliefs and opinions can be a deterrent to continuous learning.

The joy of discovering you were wrong opens up new thinking about what might be true.  New ideas can be exciting and energizing.  Do we really need to change jobs to become recognized professionally when the same excitement can come from new ways of thinking about our current job?  We can’t think anew about our work unless we challenge where we might have been doing the wrong things.

Why is it so hard to find joy in being wrong?  There are several reasons.

  • Our opinions define us, and we don’t want to develop a new identity.
  • We don’t have a Jiminy Cricket as Pinocchio had to become our conscience. All of us need an empathetic critic.
  • We have elephant memories that never let us forget when we were wrong.
  • Our egos won’t accept that being wrong can also lead to new dimensions in our life.

Think about how you want to be known.  All of us can bring to mind an historic figure who sustained a life of being wrong over decades.  Contrast that with having a legacy of finding joy from being wrong and rethinking how we can learn from our mistakes to become a better person.

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”
– Thomas Paine (American Revolutionary)

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