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5 Mistakes Everyone Should Make

Five successful people, ranging from a noted psychologist to a legendary tastemaker, describe their most startling (and most revealing) blunders.

By Amanda Armstrong
Illustrations of embarrassing mistakesLeif Parsons

1. Totally embarrass yourself.
After the publication of my book Reviving Ophelia, in 1994, I was invited to a prestigious party. I got all dressed up; I was so excited to make connections. I had a wonderful time and was elated as I was walking back to my car. Well, that is, until I felt something on the back of my skirt. While I had gotten dressed for the function, I had apparently sat on a stack of clean laundry, and a pair of underwear had affixed itself. I had spent the entire night that way! I was mortified, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t matter. I went to other similar events after that, and as far as I could tell, that incident didn’t change people’s impression of me one little bit.

I tend to think that we are all always one static-cling mishap away from looking like a total idiot—and believing that helps me keep gaffes in perspective. And, of course, these grand embarrassments eventually loosen their grip anyway, leaving you with an ace-in-the-hole story to crack up your friends with for years to come.

Mary Pipher, Ph.D., has been a psychotherapist for more than 30 years. Her latest book is Seeking Peace ($16, amazon.com).

2. Ruffle people’s feathers.
Years ago, when I began working at a business school, I sat in meetings quietly, afraid I would say the wrong thing. Some people spoke up and were scoffed at. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I held my tongue. I soon realized that my silence implied that I was on board with whatever was being said. I started voicing my opinion, even on controversial subjects, regardless of how my comments would be received. Occasionally colleagues would roll their eyes, but I found that even those who disagreed with me came to respect me for not backing down. Sometimes my ideas will make me unpopular, sure, but that’s better than being a blank slate.

Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D., is a senior research scholar in business management at Babson College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. She is the author of Giving Voice to Values ($26, amazon.com).

3. Follow trends blindly.
Looking back on my life, I find it hard to think of a fad I did not embrace. When glam rock glittered, I bleached my hair and wore a dangly earring. When punk rock raged, I donned black leather. Not until my 50s did I find my look—I call it Carnaby Street mod circa 1966—which allowed me to hop off the trend merry-go-round. But I am grateful for this process: It took a fashion odyssey to help me find out who I really am.

Simon Doonan has been the creative director of Barneys New York since 1986. He is the author of Eccentric Glamour ($15, amazon.com).

 
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