(RealSimple.com) -- Five successful people, ranging from a noted psychologist to a legendary tastemaker, describe their most startling (and most revealing) blunders.
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."
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 and the author of "Giving Voice to Values".
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".
4. Be willing to fail -- doing something you love.
In 1997 I had just graduated from law school (with tons of student-loan debt) and was interviewing for high-paying positions at big firms. The problem was, my heart wasn't in it. So I took myself out of the running in order to build a small Internet publishing company with a friend.
After a year of barely staying afloat, our venture went the way of a 404 ERROR message. I was broke and unemployed, and Sallie Mae was hot on my tail. I wondered what endeavor I should try next.
It sounds crazy, but once again I decided to throw caution to the wind and just do what I wanted. I began working as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Over the next few years, I held a wide array of fascinating jobs that I took because they captured my imagination: serving in the military, reporting from Iraq for the Washington Post, and, most recently, becoming a full-time author.
Some might consider me flighty for changing careers so often, but I contend that the key to professional happiness is asking yourself two simple questions every single day: Are you passionate about what you do? And if not, what are you going to do instead?
--Bill Murphy Jr. is the author of "The Intelligent Entrepreneur".
5. Carelessly put yourself at risk.
I'm a terrible skier, and I'm not being hard on myself when I say that. Small children and monkeys are more coordinated than I am.
So it was with unbridled terror that I once found myself alone on a black-diamond ski trail in the middle of a blizzard. (Long story.) With nobody to carry me down, I didn't have a lot of options.
So I wept -- and had a fairly supplicating talk with God about my imminent death. (I believe I made a series of promises involving church attendance, reduced alcohol intake, and forgoing swearing.)
And, finally, I skied -- slowly, with zero elegance, and whimpering like an infant the entire time -- down the mountain. It wasn't pretty, but I did it.
The point being, sometimes you have to get in over your head to realize that you're not really in over your head at all. Two years ago, I got a job that I desperately wanted but had no idea how to do. So I took it, endured several panic attacks, and eventually learned the ropes.
My choices were either figure it out or get fired. The bottom line: Most of the time, a high-risk situation won't kill you, because you are stronger than you think. And it's never a bad thing to be reminded of that.
--Amy Ozols is a cultural commentator and writer for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."
Get a FREE TRIAL issue of Real Simple - CLICK HERE!
Copyright © 2011 Time Inc. All rights reserved.