Growing up, I was afraid of making mistakes. Like really, really the world might end afraid. Don’t tell my parents I accidentally bumped a rock with our minivan at 17 and made a dent (sorry, Mom and Dad!), or admit to my boss I dropped a tray of dishes and spilled dressing on a customer’s suede jacket when I was waitressing (oops). I was afraid others wouldn’t like me or think I was okay if they knew all the ways I was screwing up. I spent a lot of time feeling embarrassed and ashamed about missteps (as well as trying to make things right before anyone found out).
I’d guess spending loads of time in a black and white, “you did it right” or “that was unacceptable; here’s your punishment”-type of environment like gymnastics played a role in feeding this fear. I also see now that at the base of it was a story about not feeling like I was okay or enough, and that I needed to be perfect. Those are posts for another day.
As I’ve lived more, hopefully gotten a little bit wiser, and met a lot more people (folks at the grocery store probably think I’m crazy), I’m learning that everyone screws up — all of the time and sometimes royally. It’s human. It happens. We all do it. And it’s okay.
Messing up, making a mistake, failing: this is how we learn and grow. Mistakes and things feeling off and not right — it’s information. Heck, it’s all good and helpful, indicators showing us a way something doesn’t work so we can try another way. Feeling embarrassed or ashamed is not required. Everyone screws up. The key is extracting the lesson and moving forward again. (And when we come across someone who leaves us feeling like we need to be ashamed for making a mistake? I’m thinking he or she may be feeling ashamed inside and struggling, and the pain may be coming out sideways. If we can manage some loving energy his or her way, awesome. And in any case, we don’t need to take anything on.)
So in this vein, I’m celebrating human messiness and failures. Here are three from over the years. They all seemed like the world would end at the time; today I can’t help but shrug, laugh, and send a hug to my younger self.
1. Eyes Closed and Riding: I was about 7 and riding my bike. I thought it’d be interesting to see if I could ride with my eyes closed. It all went fine — until I ran into the bumper of a neighbor’s car. Yup, it made a dent. I didn’t know what to do and didn’t think anyone saw, so I rode off and never told my parents. To those neighbors: Sorry about that! I didn’t intend any vehicular damage; I was just testing my skills. To my mom and dad: I was afraid of getting in trouble, so I omitted that info. I’m learning that the world won’t end if I admit to an error in judgment and take responsibility.
Notes to self: If you ride with your eyes closed, you may hit something. And if you take the mistake and hold it in, you may be writing about it 20 years later. Good for a laugh, though you’re not a bad person for making a mistake. You’re human!
2. Numbers Cheating: For a while growing up, I cheated on my beam numbers, meaning I didn’t do the full amount of skills and/or routines the coach said to do some days. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest; I was just struggling on beam and disliked the event. It felt scary and uncomfortable. I worried about falling and being there forever. I’d fudge my numbers so I could move on to the next event. With other teammates sailing through the day’s practice, I didn’t think it was okay to struggle, ask for help, or call attention to myself (which never seemed to result in anything good). I didn’t know how to express my fears.
Notes to self: Cheating won’t leave you feeling good, nor will it help you gain confidence with whatever you’re doing. Everyone needs help sometimes, and if you’re in a situation where you’re getting flack for asking for help, maybe that’s a sign the environment is unhealthy (and not that you’re doing anything wrong).
3. Still Married: When I was in college and working in a restaurant, I started dating one of my co-workers. He’d been married but assured me he was divorced. I had reservations but saw they were living apart and took him at his word. (I wasn’t feeling very good about myself at the time and the attention made me feel pretty.) A few months later we broke up. It was kind of awkward at work for a while (I later found out some of the stories that went on about me behind closed doors; they weren’t accurate or flattering). Then I got an email out of the blue from a friend of his “ex”-wife’s, calling me a homewrecker and lambasting me for dating a married man. This email went to a list of people I knew whose email addresses they’d found online, including my mom’s. Turns out he wasn’t actually divorced. Oops.
Notes to self: First — if someone says he or she is divorced and you’ve got an inkling inside that something is off, don’t ignore that inkling. Second — when you’re not feeling good inside, validation from the outside may feel good in the moment but will ultimately leave you feeling emptier. Listen to this emptiness; trying harder for outside validation isn’t the answer. Third — think twice before dating someone you work with. If things don’t work out, you’ll still have to work with the person.
Ah yes, the blunders of life. We all make them. And it’s okay. Hopefully we can learn from them (while it took a little longer to get honest with myself about the beam and I dated a couple more people I worked with before really learning that lesson, I never did ride with my eyes closed again!). If nothing else, they leave you with some good stories.
Care to share a story of your own? Feel free to leave a comment. 🙂