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Red Faced Mistakes

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I tried shaving myself with a straight razor today, unsuccessfully. I think I won’t be shaving for a couple of days. Since I need to look presentable, I’ll be needing to buy a disposable razor, to at least to carry me through the learning period. As beautiful as I am (heh), facial scars don’t do much for me.

I get the appeal. You have this one tool. It’s a simple tool: elegant, dangerous. You feel that every time you lift it up towards your face, and that’s even before you press the blade against your skin. It’s a little unnerving, and that’s before you screw up.

Doing this is a tough-love, character-building experience. If you do everything right but then screw up for one second at the end, it wounds the same amount. As a process, it’s not forgiving. Demonstrably, when you see the cuts on your face and dots of blood. I don’t relish that part, but it does focus you on your mistakes.

You know how people sometimes say, failure is not an option? Failure isn’t as simple as this makes it sound, the fate of any catchphrase. If I need to learn Russian by tomorrow, failure is an option; in fact it’s definite, because it’s not possible, under those parameters. Sometimes in life, the parameters we’re given will put success, for certain outcomes, out of our reach.

But those cases are rare, and most often, we know how to steer clear of them. Instead, we’re placed in a situation where we could succeed or fail, partly based on luck, but mostly based on how strongly we apply ourselves. If we apply ourselves to the problem, diligently, we’ll probably succeed; that’s the most we can say about any situation, but it’s true enough to almost be the same as always.

So we apply ourselves, sometimes seriously, sometimes not. When shaving, we do it seriously, because the downside attacks on every mistake.

You learn. Sharpening the blade? Take out your leather strap (the ‘strop’) and do it. Spreading the cream properly? No cutting corners; if you doubt it, it just takes one session to teach you why. And learning how to use the tool while not being impatient – that lesson gets drilled into you very quickly. The pain of doing it wrong is a fast funnel to the right direction.

Everybody has probably heard some life advice (exercise, for instance) that they should do, but blow off. This is one area where you’re forced to become expert or give up. Every single guide says to expect mistakes in the beginning, so it’s best to take your time learning. But learning new things, even physical things, can be pleasurable, and learning to do things right is the best gift we can give ourselves.

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