When I was 16 or 17, I, in my infinite teenage wisdom, resolved never to make mistakes.
This was an easy teenage decision because I knew that I didn't like being wrong and that knowledge coincided nicely with the omnipotence that only teenagers think that they have.
If I had known then, what I know now, I'd have saved myself so so so so much grief, anxiety, misery...
When I was younger, mistakes were the bane of my existence. I hated them. I hated being wrong. I hated not knowing something. I hated missing questions on tests and hated not knowing what to say or what to do. I wanted to be perfect. When I got a 98 on a test I didn't care about all those questions I got right. Oh, no. I dwelt on the one question that I got wrong and I kicked myself for it. There was no joy in imperfection.
I now know that perfect is not only impossible, it's overrated and even counterproductive.
What I know now that I didn't know then is that mistakes, while sometimes unpleasant, are the greatest gifts that you will ever get. Every mistake that you make, if viewed from the right angle, is a lesson, a hint, a blaring horn, a gentle nudge.
Failure is what tests us and shapes us and pushes us. It makes us move when we'd rather sit still. It makes us go because their is nowhere else to stay. It forces us to confront the things that we'd rather not look at or admit the things we'd just as soon ignore.
One of the legal assistants that I work with once told me that I'm a very good lawyer. I told her that if that is true it's because at one time or another, I've made every single mistake that can be made. If I have anything to brag about in that, it's that I used those mistakes as tools to learn, to grow, to stretch. It's a hell of a lot easier to get yourself into a big mess than it is to get yourself out of one. But if you can figure your way out of it, you can use that experience not to get into the same mess again.
Mistakes, however, are only useful if you don't make the same ones over and over and over. And that's where the kicker comes in....you have to own your mistakes. You have to say "Yep. I did it. I made that big ole' mess. I tore it up, dropped the ball..."
I also work with a person who has to be one of the most unhappy people I've ever known. She just looks like she's hanging on by her fingernails. She has a lot of stuff going on, a lot of it not good. The thing about her that I see most is that she's so terrified of being wrong that she's paralyzed. And when she does make mistakes, which is inevitable, she's so busy cooking up an excuse or running ahead of herself to try to undo it in a way that nobody will find out or trying to make it not-her-fault that she's losing the benefit of her mistakes. I think this is leaking into the rest of her life.
One of the greatest discoveries of my older self, is to accept my mistakes as the learning opportunities that they are and to forgive myself for making them. Now I focus on the things I do right and I welcome the wrong things as a step to being a better me in the future.
Image: In Dreams by RetroSpect Photo.