Mistakes Are Opportunities

February 11, 2015

“For those who fear making mistakes (and who doesn’t?) the first step may be to start practicing a more patient and kinder attitude toward the self. Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning, not only in art, but in life. (This can’t be emphasized enough.) They actually lead to new possibilities and new perceptions. We want to nurture a more positive attitude toward whatever occurs on the page beyond our control. If we begin to consider mistakes as opportunities for adventure and invention, then we will discover the value of seeing something in a new way.”
—Barbara Diane Barry, Painting Your Way Out of a Corner


Happily Human

April 11, 2014

Beautifully imperfect
“It’s great to be great, but it’s greater to be human.”
—Will Rogers

I have a confession to make. I’m not perfect. No, really, I know you all thought I was and you’re probably very disappointed to learn otherwise. Oh, wait. You didn’t think I was perfect. I did. Or, more accurately, I hoped you thought I was, if not perfect, then very, very close to it. It gives me great pain—and also great relief—to finally admit, publicly, that I’m flawed. I can be messy, selfish, stubborn, controlling, I hate to admit I’m wrong… I could go on, but my ego is begging me to quit. I’d really prefer to list “faults” that are really virtues in disguise (as we’ve been told to do on job interviews), but I’m finally becoming too old wise not to accept all parts of myself.

I’m tired of being afraid of mistakes and missteps, of being paralyzed by fear of looking foolish or hypocritical. I’m tired of unreasonable expectations (my own and society’s). I’m tired of perfectionism when it comes to appearance or character or accomplishment. I’m tired of trying to force myself into even attempting to look perfect when—newsflash!—NO ONE is perfect. No, not even me.

Why am I so afraid of showing my imperfections, of looking foolish and admitting mistakes? One reason—I feel a certain shame in admitting imperfection. I should always be kind, warm, giving, an excellent writer, wife and mother, and, on top of that, perfectly fit and healthy. (Shouldn’t I?) My people-pleasing, perfectionist little heart doesn’t want to do anything “wrong” and risk rejection. At bottom, I’m truly afraid if I don’t present myself as darn near perfect, I am not “enough”—and I won’t be liked, let alone loved.

I’m not sure exactly where this comes from. Perhaps because I’ve been given so much in my life—in teaching, examples to follow, health, good fortune and opportunity. I feel I have no excuse for not being, at the very least, really, really close to perfection. I don’t want to waste what I’ve been given. However, just because I know better doesn’t mean I can always do better. I’m still human, and to be human is to make mistakes. I’m still working on feeling OK with that.

The funny thing is, pretending to be perfect actually keeps me from receiving the love I want. Sharing mistakes and weaknesses—imperfections—deepens intimacy between people. And keeping up an appearance of perfection means I can’t share my weaknesses with others, and perhaps receive the help and encouragement I need. It also may keep others from sharing their imperfections with me and allowing me to help them.

Life isn’t about being perfect. It’s about growing, learning from mistakes when we make them. My faults don’t define me. They are just threads woven into the cloth of my personality. I also have many good qualities, and it’s the unique combination of faults and virtues that makes me me. I am human, and learning to be happily so. I want to be loved in spite of and because of my faults. I can’t hide them, from myself or from others. I’m taking to heart Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton’s words: “If you wish to be loved, show more of your faults than your virtues.”

What have you learned from imperfection? How do you overcome your own perfectionism?


The Importance of Mistakes

April 02, 2012

“The greatest mistake you can make in life
is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
―Elbert Hubbard

I’ll just tell you up front: I hate making mistakes. Actually, more accurately, I hate admitting I made a mistake.  I know this is holding me back in life—it makes me less likely to step outside my comfort zone, take risks and be honest with myself and others.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never
tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein

For me, there are a couple of levels of mistakes: The first I’m only a little bothered by: when I’m learning something new and therefore can’t be expected to “know it all” (yet), or when it involves something that doesn’t matter much to me. Mistakes like this seem “acceptable,” even to my perfectionistic little soul.

“Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom.”
—William Jordan

The second, more difficult level, involves mistakes made when I “should” know better or when something matters very much to me. In the first instance, when I make a mistake it only reinforces the fact that I am, indeed, human. (I don’t know why this is so difficult for me to feel comfortable with!) In the second instance, when it’s something that matters to me, the stakes seem higher. For example, I find it excruciatingly painful to admit I’ve made mistakes parenting, as I most certainly have. (And I especially have a hard time admitting this to my husband—why is that?!)

I seem to want to keep up a fa├žade of being, if not perfect, at least nearly so. By this time in my life, I feel I should be competent, intelligent and accomplished.  The mistakes I make just show me how very far I have to go to be the person I want to be.

“Good judgment comes from experience,
and experience comes from bad judgment.”
—Rita Mae Brown

In theory, I know the importance of mistakes. I know that without risking mistakes, I will learn nothing, and completely cease any kind of creative or spiritual growth. Denying mistakes makes them impossible to correct, hiding mistakes simply causes them to grow.  It’s just the practice of accepting and admitting mistakes is so hard!

Maybe my resistance to admitting mistakes has something to do with my ongoing battle with perfectionism, with always wanting to do things “right,” with the sometimes impossible standards I aspire to. I simply can’t be a brilliant writer, loving wife and mother, caring friend, perfect homemaker…you get the idea. I’m afraid admitting a mistake in any of these areas only draws attention to the ways in which I believe I fall short.

I wish I had some profound lesson to share with you about how admitting my mistakes has made my life richer, but I’m just starting to see the extent of my resistance to this topic.  I can only tell you that this is now something I hope to stay aware of and work on.

How do you cope with mistakes? What have you learned from them?

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include
the freedom to make mistakes.”
—Mahatma Gandhi