You Have the Right to Make Mistakes, Lose Everything and Start Over

You Have the Right to Make Mistakes, Lose Everything and Start Over October 22, 2012

I took my little family into Philadelphia for a day in the big city. We went to a museum, ate dinner at a trendy restaurant, and did some shopping.

As we were walking down Walnut Street, my older daughter suddenly stopped in her tracks. She turned around and blurted out, “We have to find Lush! Please, can we go to Lush? It’s the greatest store! Mom is going to love it!”

Lush, it turns out, is a funky little boutique that sells soaps and cosmetics, with delicious-looking chunks and bars laid out in shelves and barrels throughout the store. Never mind that I wanted to eat everything I saw rather than rub it on my skin, but it all made sense when the friendly sales person explained that the store concept was modeled after a European deli.


To help save the environment, Lush avoids all packaging and plastics by selling the product raw. Thus, the barrels and buckets. Even the shampoo is sold in bars rather than in a plastic bottle.

As my kids perused the soapy goods while my wife enjoyed a free massage, I turned to examine a poster on the wall that explained the company’s core beliefs. It was nice stuff about using natural products, making everything themselves, not hurting animals in the process – you know, the usual millennial-urban-hippie-vegan lifestyle fare. But one line in their core beliefs struck me, and has stuck with me:

 We believe…in the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start again.

Well. What a strange thing for a company to believe in.

It’s not the making mistakes part that hit me, it’s about the right to make mistakes. And to lose everything! It makes me feel terrified and liberated and inspired all at the same time.

But what do you think – would this core belief allow their employees to take more risks, to invent more scented products, to beautify their unique brand even more? Probably. Would it even give them a sense of freedom? Or would they just screw up more often?

What if you gave yourself the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start over again?

Would anything change?

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  • I can see how the store might apply that belief, for example, in deciding to offer a line of products it has no clear idea will sell (the business that “Lush” is, is its own model) and then finding that customers don’t buy. Naturally, one would want to know why; but the better analysis might be to not ask why but to look at how and what: what do we need to do differently to make this work, how do we take that new step, etc. The idea isn’t called into question, the execution is. The idea isn’t abandoned; it’s put up for improvement.

    Perhaps implicit in the belief is a redefinition of “business” and “profit” and whether you are willing to try a new, untested model and let it go where it will, knowing you might not make money (traditionally a sign of lack of success) but gain something else that’s more important.

    That belief in the “right to make mistakes” requires buy-in from everyone in the organization, clear understanding of what “mistake” means, who gets to decide, who gets to make it, what it means to “lose everything”, what happens after everything is lost, and how do you “start again”, especially in a tough retail environment.

    I think we all do have a right to risk an idea will find success, or not. If only the “safe” path is taken and no one gives himself or herself permission to not be perfect, there’s no creativity and inspiration. You’ve got a business run by robots.

    So much more could be said about this. . . .

    I’d love to see you interview the writers of those core beliefs, to get concrete examples of how that particular belief is adhered to and an understanding of how “right” is interpreted in the business model.

    • Maureen, I had the same response when I thought about it from a business standpoint: how do they “control” their people’s actions and behaviors around freedom to make mistakes? Does it take away from attention to detail and quality, or does it open innovation? However, I had much more resonance when I started thinking it in greater terms, of life. Of the grace to recover from mistakes, the wisdom from what is learned, and the freedom to start again.

    • pastordt

      What a thoughtful, provocatie response, Maureen. I loved this quote and couldn’t tell you exactly why. You just did. Thank you.

  • a free massage…really?

    • Yeah, you should visit.

      • interesting, the conversation with maureen. also, a sweet thing to have (free) massage for those that enter in. It is this giving…if done in a caring manner, that a person can truly feel in their heart.

  • A really great post. In this success driven world, rarely do we think about the real benefit of losing everything. It’s not in our storyline. As winter peeks around the corner, I am thinking about my first-year garden and the inevitable loss. pulling up plants, mulching, and starting over next spring. While a hint of sadness hits me, I’m excited about the prospects.

    Personally, you know, I’ve had a huge do-over — and not by choice. But God’s working it out. I’m happy. I’m leaning on Him. This starting over stuff isnt so bad after all

  • Read this yesterday but didn’t have time to comment. Have been mulling it over since then–your posts have a tendency to do that, make me mull. John Medina, one of the speakers at Laity and author of Brain Rules talked about experimentation being the primary way our brains are wired for learning. Consider the way babies explore new things with every one of their senses–it’s why everything goes in their mouths. Medina suggests that people who are lifelong learners are ones who are willing to explore, take risks, ask the question, “What would happen if?” That kind of thinking could certainly lead to spectacular failure. Or success.

  • Like Nancy, I got stuck at the free massage, too. But, I got unstuck, and I’m glad I did. This concept is so anti-cultural, and that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? I hear people talking all the time about how we “should” live – it’s a formula that doesn’t work for everyone. So, this idea of having the “right” to go against the grain? Well, it makes me smile. I’m glad you went to Lush, and shared your experience with us.

  • Reminds me of a portion of Rudyard Kipling’s IF:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

    And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

  • I’m terrified of making mistakes and losing it all. Of course, who isn’t?

    It’s something I’m having to process through. Am I really willing to take big risks – big risks for the kingdom?

    I’d be lying if I said I was always bold and courageous. But man I’m shaking in my boots sometimes.

    And the thing is – that’s probably holding me back in some ways.

  • I am so afraid of some projects that I want to tackle..quilt, embroidery, cooking……even at work, that I never even start, setting up regrets and guilt for spending the $$ on the materials to do the projects. This is a freeing concept. I have the right…


    Freeport TX

  • Ha! Before I even read Nance and Deidra’s comments that free massage jumped out at me too. What does that say about us? Good conversation here, Jim. Wondering if they really mean it…about the mistakes. Or does it just make good marketing? I read Brain Rules and remember the part Nancy is talking about, but Guy Kawasaki also touched on this in his book too. Freedom to make mistakes frees the creativity, it seems. I guess that’s why I’m such a screw up (kidding. Maybe:)

    • pastordt

      Gotta say, that small phrase was the FIRST thing I saw. But then I decided to be a little more mature about it all and read through Maureen’s lovely comment before saying a word. :>)

  • I like it. Every single thing about being able to make mistakes and have it be okay. I had a not-so-nice step dad who didn’t allow mistakes; well, I guess he did, but they came with the price of a whooping. In raising my own son, I’ve freed my very own self from the fear of messing up. So, personal or business, I think this right is right on.

    What flavor of shampoo did you walk out with? Been using shampoo bars for some time. They are neato.


  • Roger S

    Well, I suppose it is good to have that right to fail and lose everything because that’s exactly where I am at now with my first business venture. Starting over? Too much to think about at the moment.

  • I just blew right over the massage. I was too busy touching and smelling–and remembering how I nearly passed out one day in Bath and Body Works from sniffing too much. I find a lot of freedom and rest in that quote–and it inspires me.

  • Jim, this is awesome! It reminds me of a “spirit of imperfection” which sounds like a copout but actually gives freedom. When we have permission to be less than perfect, we are “loose” enough to try new things. That usually equals growth in my experience.

  • What a great reminder, it’s only when we get out of our comfort zone and fail that true success comes. It’s the getting out and having the courage to fail that can be hard.

  • JB — I make so many mistakes that it’s a relief to know I have a right to them. Glad you’re raising this point. I’ve found there’s no substitute for pushing ourselves out into the margins, where we feel out of sorts and uncomfortable and might very well fail or make fools of ourselves. Not only at work but also in our personal lives. The key to growing from these situations is to have some mentors or friends we can turn to for support. They can help us keep perspective when we take a chance and also help us learn from the experience.

  • denadyer70

    I love the concept, and though I wouldn’t have necessarily CHOSEN to fail, the times I did taught me more than the times I won. Like David, I have been through the fire and the other side is quite green, though the buds took some time to sprout. 🙂

  • Laura

    It’s a very humbling statement. No one wants to fail, lose everything and start over. Especially perfectionists. It’s food for thought.

  • My son came to us this morning with a mistake he’d made, a biggie. He has the right to make this mistake, to experience the types of consequences imposed by Life and not parents, and to start over.

  • i have made mistakes

    and have lost what was

    and yet

    by letting go of this loss

    in this thing called change

    in the dull pain of heartache

    there is

    another side to the story

    called gain

  • I’ve had this post open for more than a week and then Sandy hit and then life, etc. But I’m glad I kept it open (despite Peter’s disdain that I leave scores of tabs open in my browser at any given time). Oh, the freedom to make mistakes! This is brilliant and makes me want to know these owners, visit their store – or invite them to open one here in Lynchburg! 🙂