Making Mistakes (or Why Failure is Where the Fun Happens)

square dancing

When I was a little girl, we had to learn square dancing at school.

Is this a Texas-thing?

I loved square dancing.  Sure, it was very intimidating to touch a boy, but aside from that small hurdle, I loved everything about it.  Particularly the part where we got to dress up in our rodeo outfits and have a hoe-down at school.  The gym would be converted to a dance hall and we would invite our parents to watch us do-si-do and promenade around hay bales set up on the basketball court.

It makes me happy just thinking about it.

During one particularly memorable lesson, we were learning to do a Grand Family.  Now, this is an intricate maneuver.  Basically, you have to turn to the partner on your left, reach for opposite hands, and then pull yourself to the next person, making your way around the circle until you’re back in your original place.

It’s not easy to get going, but once you’ve got a rhythm, you’re flying around the circle, smiling at all of your friends and it’s just a fantastic feeling.

So this one particular day, I think I was about 10 years old, we really seemed to have it going – I was flying around the circle, hair whipping around my head, smiling at all my dancing partners, enjoying myself enormously.

I was thinking to myself, this is amazing.  I’ve really got it!  I love this.  I wish this could go on forever.

The gym teacher stopped the music.

She said in her loud booming voice, “Ok, everyone, that’s great – but one of you is doing it all wrong.  Can anyone tell me who is doing it all wrong?”

I looked around the circle.  Who was this person doing it all wrong?

And why was everyone looking at me?

*     *     *

I’m a perfectionist.  It’s my curse.

Sometimes when people say that, it sounds sorta self-congratulatory.  I don’t want to sound that way.

Being a perfectionist means that most days, I start out with a sort of paralysis.  When I embark on a new day, a new project, a new anything, my whole being rejects.

I research.  I write lists.  I hesitate.  I procrastinate.

I organize my emails, make another cup of coffee, think about it a bit more, question the validity of the task at hand, write another list, close the computer, walk around the block.

I do anything, absolutely anything, to avoid taking the very first step of something absolutely new.

Why?  Because the act of starting something new means that there is a whole lot of opportunity…to get it wrong.

Erica is the opposite.  She is what our childhood dance teacher used to call “a monkey”.

When there is something new, Erica dives right in.  She tries it out, laughs at the process, makes a mistake, laughs again.

One of the reasons I love Erica is that there is absolutely no angst about doing something new.  She doesn’t worry about making a mistake.

For her, mistakes are where the fun happens.

*     *     *

I still get red and flushed when I think about doing the Grand Family all wrong.  That horrible moment that loud gym teacher called me out.  I remember the feeling of mortification, the feeling of wanting to hide, of wanting to never ever square dance again.

Mostly, I want to go back and give that little girl in a green wool sweater and plaid skirt a huge hug.

I want to tell her that it is way, way more important to feel the hair flying away from one’s face – and laugh and smile at her friends rushing by – and to feel that feeling of utter joy and abandonment that comes when one is entirely and utterly absorbed in something – than to do it perfectly.

I want to look into her eyes and tell her to go ahead and make a life full of mistakes.

*     *     *

Mistakes are inevitable.  Failure is almost guaranteed.

If you’re like me, there is likely something right now that you are avoiding doing because you’re terrified that you’ll do it wrong.

If you have a tendency to over-think, if you have a perpetual fear that you’ll do it wrong (whatever it may be), here’s a crazy plan of action:

  1. Find a friend who is the opposite (Erica is my opposite) and ask them what they would do in your situation – ask them, what would be your first step?
  2. Take that first step, regardless of how crazy and impetuous it may seem.  Tell your friend to hold you accountable so you will actually do it
  3. Take a breath, look back, what happened?

Maybe you were gloriously successful.  Give yourself a pat on the back.

Maybe you made a ridiculous mistake.  Give yourself a medal.  You’ve made it through.

What mistake will you make today?

Cynthia

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