It seems like I have a lot of things together, right? Each post I’ve written explains some bigger picture issue and how I, in my infinite wisdom, have figured it all out. Go me.
The truth, though, is that all of that is by design. The nature of writing about your life experiences, whether here or on social media, is to share the positive moments or the funny stories that make up your complete picture. It’s to inform others and really let them in on your great moments of clarity.
It’s not, however to tell you about the time when Olivia was three and I got angry with her for refusing to eat her spaghetti with tomato sauce…that I later learned had jalapenos in it.
It’s not to tell you about the times that I forgot to pack “snack” in their school bags or completely blew off a swimming lesson or had to write one of those liar-notes to a teacher that swears, “I must not have gotten that permission slip. Can you please send another?” Come on. I threw that damn thing out by mistake and I know it.
It’s not even to tell you about the time when Olivia was very little and spilled a pitcher of water. She hopped around, yelling, “Water Spill!” I, like a moron, thought she was saying “wonderful” and got angry at her for it.
I didn’t realize it until she was in bed that night. I felt pretty awful.
The bottom line is that I, like you, screw up. There’s nothing memorable or uplifting about any of those stories. In fact, most of them are probably similar to your own. Screw ups happen all the time and they stretch beyond parenting. They are the basic blocks of our lives.
You don’t need to be a parent to find yourself messing up on a daily basis. We fail all the time. Right now, you’re making choices that one day you’ll look back on with annoyance. It might not be something major, but it’s something. In fact – and here’s the big moment of clarity – that’s a good thing.
It’s our jobs to grow. Whether you have kids, pets, students, employees, colleagues, or whatever, you have to navigate a world where you’re constantly getting used to different personalities and situations. To go into it expecting to know how to deal with all of them perfectly right off the bat is setting yourself up with unrealistic expectations. You need to know that you’re going to make mistakes. Some will be big. Some will be small. The trick is to make them all learning experiences. The trick is to evolve.
There’s a big reality in life that’s more in tune with Tyler Durden in Fight Club than Mr. Rogers in his neighborhood. You’re not unique. Sure, there’s no one quite like you in the personality sense. However, in the screw-up department, everyone shares the propensity to fail now and again. It might not be at the same things. Some people excel in school and fail socially. Some people soar socially and are terrible at athletics. Everyone has a failure zone. Sadly, your failures aren’t just limited to those particular areas either. Things you might consider yourself outstanding at include lapses of perfection. The more important something is to you, the more likely you are to flog yourself over the slightest flaw.
The trick is to not beat yourself up over it. We take our own mistakes the hardest and often let them encompass our self-image. We define who we are by the missteps we take instead of the places we succeed. Sure, you might tell others about your big promotion, but, in your head, you’re busy lamenting over the blunders you made along the way. We’re all artists who can’t enjoy our own work because we see the errors that no one else does.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and give you some unrealistic advice. It’s easy to say, “Suck it up and forget the bad things. It’s the good things that you did that matter.” Truth be told, though, that’s pretty close to impossible and I myself don’t do that. Sure, I’ve managed to greatly decrease my stress and self-loathing through the years, but I can still get down on myself for things that someone outside my own head would find ridiculous.
That lame “Water Spill” story isn’t something that I had to sit and remember for this article. It didn’t require hypnosis or some sort of trick to jog my memory. No. It was on the tip of my brain. It’s been there for over five years. Olivia doesn’t remember it. It was so minor that she probably didn’t remember it the day after it happened. But I did. I still do.
It’s OK, though, because I know that it’s just a small part of my bigger picture and an experience that I learned from. I’m not defined by my screw-ups and neither are you. You can’t stop making mistakes. You can, however, learn to accept the fact that you will make them. We all do. The errors we make are not what defines us. The way we respond to them is what does.