“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” — American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron from her book, “Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”
Last week, I was feeling a little bit hangdog for making what I perceive as a blunder due to lack of communication. I’m in the communications field, for Heaven’s sake. Communicate, dammit! That’s what I’m telling myself right now.
I was feeling uneasy about myself, ashamed that a mistake took place, worried about the repercussions.
My sponsor Margo says that worrying about things is a way we feel we control them. And boy, do I love to control things!
One way I control things is trying to be a perfectionist. I try to control people, situational outcomes and the way people perceive me. One tiny flaw and the world is going all to hell!
It’s hard being a perfectionist and really coming down hard on myself when I make a mistake. It essentially is denying my right to be a human being and to make mistakes.
I know in my mind mistakes are the way you learn things. But oh, how I hate to make mistakes!
Growing up, my mother protected me from making mistakes by doing a lot of things for me. She fought my fights for me, mapped out a career for me in accounting (yah, like that was ever going to happen – snort!) and was in general an emotionally smothering person.
That’s not a recipe for success or engendering a sense of self-empowerment.
Plus, it’s really boring, being “perfect.” And it’s a way of trying to protect yourself from feelings of rejection, disappointment, regret, embarrassment.
Things sometimes fall apart. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Sometimes people don’t like you. That’s not your problem or your business.
I’m reminded of the last time I was beating myself up over being human. The final exam of my last graduate-level class at WSU was really tough. The class was Organizational Communications. A bit dry.
I took the exam and came out with a 70 percent (basically a ‘C’). I felt like a complete and utter failure. I thought, my academic career is over. I wanted to throw in the towel.
After I got done raking myself over the coals, I thought, wouldn’t it be kinder to myself to just accept the fact that I’m a human being and will therefore fail at times? I’ve read that the true measure of success is not being discouraged by failures but getting up, dusting yourself off and carrying on.
I ended up getting a 4.0 in the class, to my great relief. But feeling those emotions of how hard I come down on myself for perceived failures reminded me that I have a long way to go in accepting myself as human, that I’m not defined by my failures (or successes, come to that) and that I am allowed to make mistakes.
You can’t control everything – not even the times that you make mistakes. But you have the choice of either being your most severe critic or being kind to yourself, telling yourself it’s OK, and striving to do better next time around.
What’s your choice when dealing with mistakes?