The beauty of stumbling


As much as we prefer to forget those moments when we mess up, reflecting on them can be very good for us and insightful. Journalist Caroline Buijs looks at the benefits of stumbling. 

Stumbling and falling are not only part of childhood – they are part of adulthood, too, though not always in the literal sense. Stumbling also means not passing an exam, having your heart broken or discovering that a new project you’ve taken on just isn’t working out. It’s choosing a university major but finding out it doesn’t suit you after you’ve started, or enrolling in an art class but not going back after the first two lessons because the teacher intimidates you.

Stumbling can be speaking to a large audience and watching people’s attention drift, or snapping at your children in the morning just before they leave for school and then feeling bad about it all day. Stumbling is simply part of daily life, and with a bit of luck you learn something from it, you learn what is the wrong way to do something.

Stumbling forces us to stand still for a moment and think about why something didn’t go well. It’s too bad, really, that we generally avoid that moment of reflection, preferring instead to move on from our stumbles as quickly as possible. We don’t take the time; we have other things to do. Or, and this might be the case more often than we realize, because we are embarrassed. We’d rather crawl under the blankets with a bar of chocolate without talking about our stumble with anyone.

Sometimes we lash out at the people closest to us. As Dutch psychologist Arjan van Dam explains, when we are children we don’t feel any embarrassment about tripping, because we don’t have any insecurities about what the world thinks about us yet. It’s only as we get older that we realize other people are watching us and judging us – that’s when feelings of embarrassment start to surface. Imagine, says Van Dam, that you’re living on a desert island with no people: would you feel embarrassed if you stumbled there?

  • The full story ‘The beauty of stumbling’ can be found in Issue 22.

Text Caroline Buijs Photography Julien Lux/

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