First off, welcome to the new readers of my newsletter. I hope you find wisdom and inspiration as you journey together with me through my writing.
This mail is going to be about making and managing mistakes.
In short, we are going to look at:
- Redefining what is considered a “mistake” – our unconscious and conscious definitions
- Assessing how we respond to feeling like we have had a mistake – feeling the feels.
- Address “Conscious Conflict” – how to explore what is sitting on the other side of the table,
- Looking at your relationship to being Messy, and
- Addressing the concept of “perfect”.
Over the past few weeks, I have been going through a process where I needed to make a decision based on perceived information. I was looking to solve for a “problem” which meant making a choice where I knew the known, but could only guestimate what was on the other side of the decision. And with the best of intentions for how it would work out… made a choice.
That first choice ended up being a mistake i.e. not only not solving the problem but actually putting me in a far worse position than I was to begin. I couldn’t go back (I tried) and so needed to make a new decision…
A) Do I accept my new situation and “suck it up” …. after all I got myself into this mess, or in kinder words, make good of a bad situation… lemonade from lemons and all that,
B) Do I throw a tantrum and insist that my initial decision and move gets annulled and I get to go back as things were without interruption… somehow magically because this would need to require the displacement of someone else who had taken my previous position. I.e. play the victim and helpless child where other people need to clean up my mess for me so that my life can continue unaffected and pleasing to me.
C) Not settle for what is currently not pleasing, and continue to solve for the problem which initiated the first move, even if that means moving beyond ego-based decision making…. I.e. Sticking with desire and moving beyond logic and ego-rational to solve…. Working outside of the box…. A place where, according to a meme I once saw, magic and possibility happen….
For now, I am not going to draw the parallels between my decision and move process to how this takes place in relationships and ending of relationships… which can be a blog post in and of itself, but will get to the part of talking about making “mistakes” as a whole.
In our very codependent society that we live in, sometimes what we regard as a mistake is anything that we do which does not meet the acceptance and approval of others.
Sometimes what we call a “mistake” is something where we had expectations regarding the particular action’s outcome which were not met. We then tend to think that our expectations were correct, therefore what we did was “wrong”.
Sometimes it is simply something which we did, but then regretted after the fact.
And sometimes, quite simply, we make mistakes based on fact. 1+1 is simply 2, and if we declare that it is 4, unless we are able to prove alternative theory, then we quite factually made a mistake and there isn’t much debate about that…
... How we respond to making the mistake though is a different story...
Do we admit our error with humbleness and open ourselves up to learning or do we try to “save face” and insist that we are correct and that there is no error in our ways, often digging ourselves into deeper holes?
There is a saying: You can’t save your face and save your ass at the same time! I.e where all your effort is towards protecting your image, then you are likely going to be endangering yourself elsewhere.
Where we have unconscious definitions of what makes up a mistake and learned associations about what that means about you as a person to make mistakes will often determine how you respond to yourself and others after the fact.
In other words…
If you are holding an unconscious belief that making mistakes is abhorrent, that people will judge and criticize you or think less of you for not being able to get things right…. To be perfect, to know better, to have your shit together, or even more subtle, a belief that you should know better… Then there is a good chance that you will have an ambivalent relationship to making mistakes.
Making mistakes likely will be met with extreme avoidance… i.e. what that also looks like is not really ever trespassing into the unknown or taking many risks in life. It can look like not putting yourself out there, starting a new project, playing with creativity, initiating contact with strangers, following a dream etc.
Over the past few weeks I bore witness to a leader of a community making an inflammatory public statement which unsurprisingly blew up and then the resultant fall out of that with various reactions, responses and sides being taken. This opened up a personal conversation around “Conscious Conflict”…
Often at times of conflict we take “a side”. In this case, the leader made a statement which stood on some very sensitive toes.
What was interesting to watch was how it was managed.
At first there was the reaction of “I am right and you are wrong”, if you don’t agree with me then you are out (A common knee-jerk response when feeling shame or embarrassment when making a “mistake”)
The important thing was that this then softened and evolved into a response: A willingness to learn what was on the other side of the table. The leader listened to the feedback about where they were holding blind-spots and how they could approach the situation differently in the future.
What was noteworthy was that the leader did not collapse into shame at the realization of the offence of the other, but found the space where they could hold their position whilst simultaneously being open and empathetic to the other.
I.e. being open to hearing what is on the other side of the table (I share more on this in my latest IG post re listening)
Where we choose to defend ourselves (to save face as above), we keep feeding the conflict loop and conflict is not resolved.
Where we can find the space (within ourselves) to not collapse in shame but to back ourselves in our beliefs / actions etc whilst at the same time open ourselves up to learning and understanding what the other is trying to bring forward, or alternative modes of action then we have made significant progress in our relationship to self and other.
How does this relate in terms of my concept of “managing mistakes”?
If we do something, or make a decision - which after the fact did not turn out quite how we imagined it to go - how do we respond?
A) Beat ourselves up and collapse in shame. Do we undermine our initial decision and criticize ourselves for being “wrong” or “stupid” for making that ridiculous error of judgement?
B) If we made a “mistake” in relation to another person, do we follow the trend of point A above and then defer all wisdom and authority to the other? OR
C) Do we use our “mistake” as information to learn and grow from? Do we view it as a stepping stone on the continuous journey of learning and growing as a messy human being – sometimes the feedback is that we need to choose a new direction and sometimes the information is yes you’re on the right track but let’s see how we can do this differently.
We can’t complete this discussion without looking at the concept of “perfectionism”- which is both enabling and disabling in the world of mistakes.
On the one hand, holding a view of perfectionism can cause an unwillingness to take any risks or try new things or experiment with your magic in case you get it wrong – in case it is not perfect! I.e. it can have a freeze effect through intimidation and fear.
On the other… if we open ourselves up the more spiritually minded concept of “perfectionism as a way of life” then we can view each unfolding moment and action simply as life itself.
A grand dance of polarity and paradox, where the mystical and the mundane make love and recreate itself moment by moment. And it’s as messy as childbirth itself. “Mistakes” can feel life threatening… but they are also part of the process… The imperfection is the perfection.
Returning to my personal “mistake management” at the beginning of this mail: I chose option C, which ultimately fitted into a dream vision path which I had imagined, however, was in no way imagining would be on the immediate cards for fulfilment. Having to explore for option C, I found a place of rest which I never would have considered if I was making decisions from a place of ego and convenience. I.e. If I did not make the initial “mistake”, the initial inspired move, I would not have ended up where I was… at all!
Sometimes there is wisdom in the very messy and convoluted ways that life moves us. Trust the process… mistakes are often magical!
The next time you find yourself recoiling at yourself for doing something which did not work out as expected… instead of going down the spiral of claiming to never do that thing again… celebrate yourself! Give yourself a huge pat on the back for taking a risk, for showing yourself, for experimenting and playing. It doesn’t always work out as planned… but we always end up with something we can learn from!
The next time you find yourself holding yourself back for fear of being lynched or burnt at the stake for putting a foot wrong…. Take a deep breath and ask yourself: How can I make this easier for myself, whilst still being true to me. Without letting the external world dictate who I am and how I show up…. What can I choose to do in this moment?
And most importantly, ask yourself…. How is even this moment perfect?
PS. A few resources:
- For those of you who are recovering perfectionists, like myself, an excellent resource is the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown
- One response to the blow up situation I referred to was an article by Dave Burns which touches more on the topics of Sovereignty and Perfectionism, with some well thought out caveats to the notion of “everything is perfect”. You can read it here.