I have decided to embrace mistakes this year. Not that I am going to do them on purpose, or be careless or lazy, but I am realizing that I am going to make them and other people are going to make them and that it is okay. In fact, I am adopting the adage that if I am not making mistakes, I am not doing enough.
Fortunately for me, my job does not involve life or death. I can’t imagine working in the medical field where my mistake could cost someone their life, or in the financial field where I might make someone lose their money. My mistakes usually involve someone being inconvenienced, like if I forget to order books for a teacher or sign them up for the lab in the media center. They usually cause extra work for me, and sometimes those around me. I try really really hard to do things right, but the occasional error still happens.
For most of my life I have had a pretty black and white view of myself and mistakes, i.e., if I am rolling along not making any then I must be a good person and good at my job, but if I screw up, then everything about me is a failure, why did I ever even become a media specialist, obviously everyone secretly wishes I would quit, I am over the hill. Am I the only one this crazy?
I found a kindred soul in Anne Lamott, the author of several books on faith and life. My good friend Laura Lomax recommended her book “Traveling Mercies” and reading it has felt like sitting down with an old friend and letting it all hang out. Sbe is painfully honest, funny and sensitive to the spiritual truths in the everyday aspects of life. In one chapter, she writes about a speaking engagement that bombed. Failing in front of a large group is probably most people’s worst nightmare, and that happened to her. After the debacle, she writes:
“My fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do – and I think my parents may have accidentally given me this idea – and you do poorly, what then? It’s over; you’re wiped out. All those prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a schmendrick you are, what a fraud.” (Traveling Mercies:Some Thoughts on Faith, p. 142) (In case you didn’t know, schmendrick is Yiddish for stupid!)
That so sums up how I have felt many times in my life! But after some self-indulgent crying and hiding, Lamott goes on to explore the flip side of this feeling of doom over “messing up” – grace.
“Grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish….It was amazing. I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” (p. 142-143)
Let that statement roll around in your brain for a minute. Can we commit to being ineffective and foolish sometimes? Are we willing to take the chance that we will fail – that we will receive the “gift of failure” as she calls it – and be willing to pick up the pieces of our shattered egos and move on? Could this actually be good for us?
The author Neil Gaiman gave a keynote address in which he challenged the graduates to go out and “Make glorious mistakes!” His theory is that if you are not making mistakes you are not pushing yourself. I thought about this speech as I coached the cross country team at my school this year. I felt very inadequate for the job and kept thinking someone else could do it better. But there I was, and despite my fumbles and inorganization and being too “motherly”, we made it through the season and I think most all the kids felt successful. I hope next year will be even better. I hope I will learn from my mistakes. But most importantly, I hope that the young people I worked with will see that taking the chance of running on the cross country team was worth it, even if they faced mistakes and failure.
As I have accepted my own tendancy to flub things up, I feel myself being “graceful” to other people’s mistakes. We all have days when we are trying to multi-task and get things done in a hurry and something gets missed. We all get our attention diverted and forget an important detail. We all sometimes ‘bite off more than we can chew’. But at least we are doing something! And I think God calls us to that, for getting out of our comfort zone and making an effort. So go out and mess something up!