Welcome, good people, to this Friday, August 30, 2019. This is a rare and precious day that will never come again. May you be kind to yourself and others.
I was recently in a conversation where we discussed overcoming adversity. One gentleman shared an account of a flourishing entrepreneur who was being interviewed. When asked what she attributed her success to, she replied that it was her failure. She went on to say that when she was young, every night at the dinner table her father would ask each family member what they failed at that day. From her father’s insightful question, she learned that it was OK to fail and make mistakes – we all make mistakes.
Reflecting on my life, I believe this wisdom was shared with me in some form or another. It appears that I either arrogantly plugged my ears or I simply never embodied the message.
Things I learned when I was young, before the fear of failure consumed me, skiing for example, I excelled at. I boastfully knew I was a good skier so I would risk a failing to learn even more impressive tricks and techniques. I was confident I would eventually “get it” then be that much more of a superstar! Oof – Ego!
But trying to learn something new once my ego was well established, that was a different story. Ice skating backwards! All my friends learned this fast. They loved hockey. Besides the fact that they all confidently wore black hockey skates and I awkwardly donned my sister’s hand-me-down white figure skates, I tried a failed a few times and embarrassedly gave up quickly. My excuse, “I don’t like ice skating!” Even today, in investigating my aversion towards ice skating, it’s very clear to me there’s a residual feeling of shame for never having learned how to skate backwards. It was too humiliating!
Though in most cases this fear of failure closed the door on many opportunities, it sometimes motivated me. A time when I was new nurse in the operating room comes to mind. A doctor once kicked me out of the OR because I wasn’t familiar enough with a particular surgical technique. I ended up learning that procedure – and most others – well enough that I could anticipate a surgeon’s needs without them having to say a word. Nevertheless, it was this fear of failure that drove me.
How has this fear of failure effected your life?
Having developed some insight, it’s very clear that I created for myself a substantial amount of unnecessary suffering fearing failure, or a mistake. I held myself to a ridiculous and unattainable standard of flawlessness. “If I can’t learn it without looking stupid, I’m not doing it!” “I’ll become so skillful that I’ll never make a mistake!” Thoughts such as these created undue stress, anxiety and tension for much of my life. And, I didn’t really know it was happening. I closed the door on these traits and blamed my stress, tension and anxieties on outside sources.
A shared humanness is that we are all imperfect – we all make mistakes. It’s OK!
A new favorite author and teacher of mine is Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr. In his book, “Falling Upward,” he states that each day he looks for a way to experience humiliation. This would have terrified me a few years ago. Though I still take myself way too seriously much of the time, I’m slowly learning how to not listen to and let go of my ego driven self that shames me and tells me to avoid trying something new or to withdrawal to some lowly desolate island when I make a mistake.
Over the last couple years, I’ve started to do things that help me to loosen up – things that humble me. As many of you know, I own more cat socks than any human should. The best socks are found in the women’s section. I do this because I love cats, the socks are conversation starters and they remind me not to take life so seriously.
Despite having poor editing and grammar skills, I’ve been sending out these weekly Mindfulness Support letters for over a year meow (yes, these “meows” are intentional!). I frequently re-read my letters and find all sorts of missed or extra words, punctuation errors and poor sentence structure. It doesn’t bother me much anymore. I’m doing my best. I’m learning.
And lastly, I recently bought a guitar. I’ve been wanting to learn for years but I always gave up too quickly because after a couple months of inconsistent practice, my fingers hurt, and I still couldn’t play like Eric Clapton. I’m grateful I don’t have to beat myself up like that anymore!
I love you, I love your mistakes, I love your imperfection, and there isn’t anything that you can about it.