Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

11 Story-Killing Mistakes to Avoid

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Better stories don’t just happen. It requires intentionally fighting against the natural desire to be normal.

And sometimes along the way, we make mistakes. Some mistakes are easy to recover from. Some are not. Some  mistakes are so big, they will affect your story will for the rest of your life.

Don’t confuse failure and mistakes. Failures are an important process of life. They are opportunities to learn something new. To see what will happen when you poke the box a little.

Mistakes are something completely different. Mistakes are preventable. They are those things that should never happen but do. We make mistakes because we refuse to learn. We refuse to listen.

When a mistake happens, you look back and realize you should have known better.

photo by JD Hancock (Creative Commons)

This is your chance to be warned. Here are some of the dumbest, most obvious mistakes I have made. All of these are potential story killers.

1. Do things to get people to like you. Even if these people do like you, it’s not the real you. Plus you are miserable for it. Wear the clothes you like. Hang out at the places you like. Eat the food you like. Write your own story, not the one you think people want to see.

You will eventually make friends with people who like you as you and not fabricated you. An honest story is always better than a popular one.

2. Wait to get started. Filing taxes. Starting on a big project. Finding a job. Breaking up with a girlfriend. Doing the laundry. Living a better story. Just a few examples of things that become much harder when we wait.

3. Have as much fun as possible right now because you are young or you deserve it. It’s important to have a good time, but you can’t let it become the reason for your existence. The sooner you learn the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing work, the happier you will be. I regret the time lost watching television or playing video games or doing nothing. And that time is gone forever. Forever.

4. Choose a career because the pay and benefits are great, hoping that someday you will grow to like it. You won’t. If you don’t like it on day 1, you won’t like it on day 1,000. Find what you love to do and give yourself to it. Yes, pay the bills and figure out health insurance. But when you pursue a career you don’t enjoy, you will be miserable.

5. Staying home instead of traveling. Seeing the world. Experiencing cultures. Trying new foods. Learning a new language. All of these will make your story better by showing you that “normal” is different for everyone. Plus it is fun while you do it.

6. Try to avoid failure. The only way you can avoid failure is to do nothing new. Nothing creative. Nothing exciting. You can choose predictable and safe, but it gets you absolutely nowhere. Your goal should be to fail. Not because you want to, but because your real goal is to keep trying until you discover something new.

7. Try to be successful. Most equate celebrity with success. We equate popularity or income or demand with success. So we pursue celebrity instead of just trying to be the best at what we do. Don’t get these confused. Viktor Frankl said it best.

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued: it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself …

8. Not reading a variety of good books. Reading is like exercise for your brain. If you never exercise your body, you feel bad. Especially when you are asked to do something challenging. Your stamina will be low. You will be weak. Don’t expect your mind to be any different. Your brain needs exercise too. Reading isn’t the only way to job your mind, but it is one of the best and easiest ways.

9. Don’t floss. Cavities are bad no matter how you look at it. The cost of dental work. Bad breath. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, floss your teeth.

10. Assume you have all the answers. Whether it is about life, religion, the opposite sex, work, sports, or buying a new car, listen to others. Gather from a range of perspectives, then formulate your opinion.

11. Go in debt. The heaviest shackles I have ever worn were placed on my by myself by accruing debt. It sucks. Free t-shirts just aren’t worth it.

What mistakes have you made while trying to live your better story?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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26 Replies

  1. This started of strong with “An honest story is better than a popular one” and kept going. As I read through your list, I can remember times that I’ve done most of these. #4 and #8 were the only ones that haven’t halted progress on my story, while the others have been mistakes that sneak in from time to time when I assume “everything is good.”

    Great post today, and I love that you brought this picture back. That is one humiliated stormtrooper.

  2. You had to go and throw in #9? Darn. Grabbing some right now. Great post.

  3. where were you when I was eighteen???

  4. This was awesome, Jeremy. I agree and disagree with #4. My dad labored at his career for 5 years before figuring out a way he could do it that he liked. Fortunately, he works in a large industry, is self-employed, and can carve out his own specialization. But it took a long time to get to that place.

  5. Great post, Jeremy!

    The only thing I’d disagree with was your comment in #3 about time doing nothing. I’m anti-tv and anti-video games but this weekend I did borderline nothing and it was very, very good because I needed to do nothing to recharge.

  6. Kevin Raidy

    The weight of a “mistake” speaks volumes. I particularly don’t like the term “failure”
    because often times it’s associated with a person’s character. I prefer to look at “failure” on a severity
    scale. Mistakes happen. Can we learn from the mistake and not repeat
    it? Making mistakes is part of
    life. You fall down. You get up.
    You learn.

    I have had plenty of learning mistakes in my life such as
    listed by Jeremy (1,2,6,11). I would add
    to the list of mistakes for me is Self
    Care- not taking care of self, which also affects family care. Another mistake I’ve made is to Loose Focus – not being clear on values/purpose.
    When businesses loose focus, they often close, loose clients, or profits
    decrease. In personal life the consequences are often the same. Lost relationships. Lost jobs.
    Lost self-image.

    I am in the midst of rebuilding as a result of both (Self
    Care/Lost Focus). Being a second career
    pastor, I put all my time and energy into preparing: for ministry, for
    ordination, for growing congregations.

    After five years into full-time ministry, I was
    depleted. Giving everything to everybody
    else except to family and self. In the
    state of emptiness, I resorted to poor choices of stress management and
    self-medication. As a result, I resigned
    from a vocation I loved, mending many broken relationships, and I’m being
    brutally honest with myself.

    I am also reminded about how “grace” has played a part in recovering
    from those mistakes. The grace that has
    been offered to me, and the “grace” that I must offer myself; which is often
    the most difficult part of learning and applying!

    For more about how grace played a role in my “story”
    read: “A Pastor’s Pain”

  7. Really liked the list. All killers of our ultimate story. Here’s my addition –

    Think that the world is against you.

  8. great list Jeremy. I’d add

    “Don’t live intentionally”

  9. Thanks for sharing your mistakes with us.

  10. Do you do that every weekend?

  11. That’s a good point. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do something you don’t love at some point if it gets you to what you love to do.

  12. I’m kind of stuck on that one. Not sure why.

  13. Life must be really tough when all of the other storm troopers are laughing at you.

  14. Not as many as I’d like, unfortunately. I try to make weekends as relaxing as possible. They usually include housework, exercise, and other things that don’t get done during the week but they also include a lot of book-reading, novel-writing, and introvert re-charge time. It’s not a goal to keep my computer off or anything it’s just to take it easy and get there when I get there. I put internet “crises” first all week but on the weekends, they can wait.


  15. I’ve made the mistake of getting bitter (and jealous of others) because I’m not yet where I want to be. That’s a huge mistake. Bitterness and jealousy go hand in hand. And both of them are a waste of time–therefore a waste of my life.

  16. B/C you are in the healthcare profession, I bet that’s why. Crap, now I feel guilty and I’m about to floss at my desk.

  17. Sounds like a mistake of a different sort.

  18. I’ve done the same. I’m glad you brought it up. I disguise it sometimes as criticism, but when I really look at it, I am being hypercritical because I am jealous.

  19. Yes!! Not living intentionally…bad mistake!!

  20. I DEFINITELY had the problem growing up Joe! But God…

  21. It sounds like your relaxing is beneficial. I was pointing towards relaxing that is really goofing off. For me, there has been too much “having a good time” that wasn’t about recharging to do more, but rather about me just not working.

  22. Haha, awesome list! Thanks for sharing…I’ll try to avoid even though I’ve been down the road of several of them 🙁

  23. pam

    the chinese have a saying: “Failure is the motherhood of success”. Also an Indian boss told me once, “Don’t make a mistake, it costs me money”. Pam from

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