Back when I was a wee person, my parents warned me about this terrible thing called “making mistakes”. They talked about this a lot. They filled my head with all kinds of horror stories. They believed that as long as I did things with caution and care, and learned from other people’s blunders and faux pas, there was no need for mistakes to be made.
Whenever I did screw up – which face it, happens a lot when you’re a dustbin lid – I was chastised for not being vigilant, for not thinking things through, or for simply not listening when I was told (lectured) about the other people’s cock ups.
It goes without saying that I grew into an anxiety-ridden teenager, afraid of making even the tiniest mistake, and strove for perfection at every turn.
As they years whizzed past I came to realize two things. Firstly that I couldn’t keep clinging onto this really rather daft ideal. For one thing, I am not, never have been and damn well never will be perfect. No one is. It is a foolish mission. I am me. Perfectly imperfect. To go all-out for perfection at every turn will only guarantee failure.
And the other thing? Simples. Trying to avoid making mistakes is limiting. In order to avoid them I was also dodging trying new and different things.
My desire for perfection stemmed from my fear of being criticized, first by my parents, then by people in general. I associated making mistakes with being judged, rejected, and ridiculed, and carried that association with me as my own personal piece of luggage.
I believed that a mistake would lead to a major cats-after- me (catastrophe). If I chose poorly in terms of whom I befriended, surely that was indicative of my downward spiral into becoming a bad person. If I failed a test, surely that meant I would not do well at school and would ultimately end up destitute and on the streets.
That’s daft, right? Illogical beliefs are exactly that. Not logical. But that is the nature of the fear that drives perfectionism.
Time proved my beliefs wrong. I have had my share of questionable friends, and I have failed more than one test in my lifetime. The world did not end. I did not end up destitute, And I don’t live on the streets.
The fear of making mistakes develops and grows as we perceive other people’s reactions to our screw-ups. When my parents responded badly to me making a mistake I automatically frog marched myself to the conclusion that mistakes were a B_A_D thing.
But now I know that making mistakes can be a good thing. How else will you learn without screwing up?
Think about when you learned to walk. You were most probably really terrible at it, as was I, as was everyone in the world. Even after we tried walking for the twentieth time, we were still not very good at it. But babies haven’t learned negative associations with making mistakes. Can you imagine if babies were afraid of making mistakes? No one would ever learn to walk. No one would ever learn to tie shoelaces. No one would ever learn to read or write. Making mistakes is a learning experience. It’s how we grow and expand our horizons. It’s how we develop as people. Making mistakes is also part of the human condition. To be imperfect is to be human, and we can’t expect any more than that.
So I make mistakes now. Some days I make more than others. I learn from them. And I’ve also got past the tendency to beat myself up after I’ve goofed. Gone are the days when I’d tell myself that I was an idiot, that I’d convince yourself that I’d let my friends and family down, torture myself with guilt, and think over and over again about how I’d screwed up.
Nowadays I interrupt that process by reminding myself that I’ve just had an ideal opportunity to learn something plonked in my lap. I work out what I’ve learned. I work out how I can apply it in the future. I remind myself that I’m human. That I am perfectly imperfect. Then I pat myself on the back for learning a new skill. Bravo Bucks!
Learn from my mistakes. They can be a good thing. Get past the fear. Do something new. It’s exciting. It’ll grasp you firmly by the seat of your pants. Promise