34. Make mistakes faster. This isn’t my idea — I borrowed it. I think it belongs to Andy Grove.
– Bruce Mau, An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth
As a homeschooling mom, I experience failure on the regular. And as a mom in general, I make a ton of mistakes.
It’s par for the course.
I didn’t always accept this fact with such grace.
Sometimes my plans for are a hit and sometimes they are a big fat bust.
These people. A tough crowd to say the least.
As the driver and captain of this ship, which my husband will never argue against, I sometimes miss the gigantic iceberg in front of me. The signs are all there. The screaming children. The busy weekends. The lack of sleep. The take-out boxes. But instead of steering clear of impending chaos and disaster, I seem to plough ourselves right into it. (More copywork! More math sheets! Aaaah, we are so behind. Cue melting face expression.)
As I juggle multiple personalities and multiple learning methods, I am constantly pushing my creative edge. As the children continue to reach new developmental stages at different times, I find myself trying to keep 2 or 3 steps ahead.
The problem with focusing on 2 or 3 or 12 steps ahead is that sometimes you miss that iceberg coming at you in full speed. Right here. Right now.
That pesky thing called the present.
When you aren’t focused on the present, failure can be devastating. You can pull your past record in a heartbeat and count all the failures and mistakes. You can also fall into the trap of staying in the future tense vowing to never let that happen again.
But a funny thing happens when you sit in the failure that is in front of you. Sit in the mistakes and shortcomings of an action or a project or a relationship. You start to feel that maybe it wasn’t such a failure after all. You start to think about all the things that can grow on this weedy ground after a bit of tending and a bit of planning.
It’s a bit of a grieving process no matter how small the failure. My times table flash cards were one of those small failures. They worked well for one child while the other would only glare at them as if willing them to go up into flames. This mistake is an easy one to come to grips with. There’s instant feedback and maybe for a split second I lamented the ease of which the cards could have provided. Now it was time to try something different. It was time to rethink my approach and focus on the child in front of me – not what worked in the past or what I hoped would work.
The big ones took a little longer to get over. Some took a little therapy. Some took an inner circle of trusted people to support and to encourage. Some just needed a fresh cup of coffee and an early morning start.
But sometimes what looks and smells and tastes like a failure isn’t always a failure. An outside opinion can give a different angle. Sometimes outcomes are the result of a natural end to a path, a journey. Maybe you reached your unintended destination awhile back and never even noticed that you were there and things had to shake you up a little to make you see that you ended up on an entirely different journey all together. It can seem a failure to you because you planned to head in a different direction and instead you are here, a place where maybe you were meant to be all along.
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. I was paralyzed by choice. I wish someone told me how many different jobs I would have and how many mistakes I would make to get me closer to that answer. And that the faster I jump in and make those mistakes, the more I learn about myself and what I am really doing here.
In our house, you hear these words a lot:
I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.
(It’s a Michael Jordan quote.)
Stacked up failures and mistakes means you have tried. And to try and to fall down means that you have LIVED. You haven’t sat on the sidelines spending your time calculating the risk/reward or wondering if you should even bother because if you fail, it would be a waste of time. You haven’t shied away from spilling open to avoid getting hurt. You haven’t hoarded your time to be spent at a later unknown date. You haven’t held back on experimenting and learning and wondering because responsibility and security can be the ultimate seductress in living a life without trying.
But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are rearranging what is in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: Live immediately.
-Seneca, On The Shortness of Life
Throwing caution to the wind and following your heart may lead you down an uncertain and volatile path. But what a life. A life of your dreaming. A life of your choosing. If you fail, it will be on your terms. If you fail, you will still own your life at the end of the day.
It isn’t easy watching your children leap when you know they will fall. You see the slippery slope. You see that it will be a rough landing. And in some cases, failure is inevitable. But do you only let them leap after you place the safety net securely underneath them? When do you stop calculating the risk for them and teach them how to do it themselves? When do you trust that they are resilient enough to survive the mistakes they are bound to make?
We put this poster up in our house 6 years ago:
These types of posters used to annoy me until I figured out the secret to them.
The key is FAILURE. If you aren’t afraid to fail, these posters make sense. If you aren’t afraid to just try and keep trying no matter how humiliating or embarrassing the outcome is, then LIFE IS SIMPLE.
When the kids are afraid to fail or to try something new, I ask them: “What is the worst that could happen?”
They rhyme off all the awful things that could happen to which I answer, “And then?”
And finally they get to the very worst thing, in their minds, that could happen. Then I say, “And if that happens, I will be here, your father will be here, your siblings will be here. Right here. To help you up. To support you. To dust you off. And most importantly, to remind you that you always get a second chance.”
And to reiterate this message, I decided to put it up at the top of our stairs too…I’m big on the visual reminders:
I am no longer afraid of making mistakes. Failure can still sting like a fresh sunburn. But the sting fades. And the memory of the burn fades. And all that’s left is that glorious day in the sun when I made an attempt.
And even in the most horrendous failures, those massive crash-and-burns, I have encountered the most honest and beautiful moments of my life – including my children watching not only my failure but how I am able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and try again.
And keep trying.
And as I get a little older and a little bolder, I bounce back faster. My mistakes are no longer setbacks but stepping stones. I no longer have a definite pre-conceived destination. I have faith that these stones are leading me where I need to be and I am always surprised at the unexpected arrival to a place where I never imagined.
And that place is right here, right now.
Here’s a great activity: Write down all failures/mistakes in your life, big and small, and write down the good that has come out of them. And if your list doesn’t fill the page, go out and LIVE IMMEDIATELY.
In darkness, there can be both creation and destruction…
Leave a Reply to Brooke Cancel reply