Finding Places to Fail
I’m relatively new at being a person who does yard work and gardens, which is a fun hobby for me and an ominous undertaking for all flora residing in my yard. My thumbs are not particularly green.
Last summer, I accidentally chopped off a clematis I’d been oh-so-carefully cultivating for a year. To be accurate, I accidentally chopped it off at least three separate times, because I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how the weed whacker works. And the other clematis? I cut off all the dead bits, thinking I was being super helpful to our landscaping guy, only to discover those weren’t dead bits I’d been hacking off…
The reason I’m sharing this is because the work we do to know ourselves better never stops. In mowing the lawn, I get to see my driven urge for perfection show up. It’s a good place for it, really, because the lawn needs mowing anyway and it’s a relatively safe place for that part of myself to play. Well, maybe not so safe for a clematis…
Where can you let yourself fail? Clearly, it’s yard care for me, and also baking: I recently tried to invent a new savoury breakfast bun and it was NOT successful. Turns out, baking is science, and recipes are there for a reason. Generally speaking, the kitchen is a place I can practice failing, without making it particularly meaningful about me, or at least if I do, I can let it go pretty quickly.
Other places in my life? My relationships, my business, my writing or my work with clients? Failing in those areas feels a lot harder. My driven nature doesn’t leave me a lot of room to mess up, and my perfectionistic ego doesn’t even like entertaining the idea of making mistakes.
Knowing I can tend towards perfectionism means that I sometimes try to not be that way and to not allow that part of me to show up. It’s just another kind of trying to do everything right, which is literally the story of my life.
Not being allowed to make mistakes has led me to a lot of self-loathing and reticence to trying new things, or pushing past my comfort zone. This would be fine, if a lot of the experience of life I desire didn’t exist outside of the predictability of my comfort zone. This is how it gets me, and this is how it gets you, too.
Knowing you have a blind spot or an ego doesn’t mean you have to abolish it. The more we try to resist parts of ourselves, the more they persist. And these parts are still parts of you, whether you like them or not. Trying to cut out parts of you that you don’t love will cost you the gifts that go along with them. And yes, those parts of you come with gifts.
My perfectionism may not be the healthiest facet of my driven personality, but it’s really just the over-expression of my devotion, which is one of my core essential qualities. My devotion is what fuels my passion, commitment, discipline and willingness to work hard.
It’s not my job to kill off my tendency to drive myself towards perfection; it’s my job to manage it and make sure it’s not ruling me on autopilot.
Like it or not, your survival mechanism (those parts of you created by you in reaction to the world and life not going the way you’d prefer) is along for the ride. Trying to keep it from existing is an utter waste of your energy, as well as setting yourself up for these parts of you to pop out, uninvited, at the least opportune moments.
I’m all for working on ourselves, personal growth and continual improvement. One of my favourite quotes is “Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you,” from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nowhere in that quote is he suggesting you make yourself less by removing the parts you don’t love.
I’m proposing we all find ways to let ourselves be all of ourselves. What might be possible if you could find a way to let your survival mechanism come out to play in a way that is relatively non-consequential? What if you could allow your less-than-favourite parts to co-exist with the parts of you that feel more acceptable?
Maybe it’s okay to not be perfect all the time. Maybe it’s okay for every hit not to be a home run or a hole-in-one. Maybe it’s okay to fail. That’s the only way we learn, and that’s the only way we grow.