I talked yesterday about how trial and error is a great way for me to “feel” my way through life. I learn a lot in the process, and if I can just stay flexible and adapt, then I’m good.
The thing is, it’s incredibly hard.
I have no problem making errors. That comes with the territory of being me. It seems to be my “default mode” — and I used to get so much crap for it, when I was a kid, because I was always messing up things that should have been so easy for me. Everybody expected more of me, and I consistently let them down.
That was maybe the one and only way I was consistent — I let people down, when their hopes were highest.
My parents who believed that paper route would teach me responsibility and reliability, only to watch me fall behind, mess up the math on how many papers I needed, and not get out of bed early enough on Sunday mornings to deliver the paper at the pre-ordained time.
The teacher who ran the school newspaper who was so sure I’d make a great sports reporter, only to have me start one story after another, and never finish it, growing surly and defiant when they pressed me to meet the deadlines.
The editor of a local newspaper who was so happy to have me on board, at first, then grew frustrated at how I could never seem to come to a succinct point in newspaper format (my pieces went on for pages, and I still never got to the point).
All the bosses over the course of 20 years who saw so much potential in me, only to be disappointed by one “careless” error after another, dealing with my uncooperative style, and ultimately finding me insubordinate when they pushed me to perform, and I pushed back.
I’ve long believed there was something wrong with me, for not being able to perform at the level everyone else did so easily. The really hard stuff, I could do — staying calm in a tense situation, finding creative solutions for problems that stumped everyone else. But the easy stuff — just staying on schedule, being consistent, having a good collaborative working style, and being a solid team player… that was such a challenge for me.
Everyone else could do it. Why couldn’t I?
And I felt terrible about it for years and years. Decades, really. Just terrible.
Until one day I decided there wasn’t any point to that, anymore. I think that change happened three or four years ago, when I read a book about how the human system is designed to take in feedback and adjust. So, all the “failures” and “mistakes” were actually just feedback intended for me to use and apply in my own life. It wasn’t about black-and-white success/failure. It was about data. Information. New details that I needed, in order to really do a bang-up job on what I was undertaking.
And it made sense to me. I mean, think about it — when you’re born, you don’t know how to walk and talk. You have to learn it from scratch. You don’t come into the world like a laptop from a computer company. You don’t come “pre-loaded” with everything already up and running and properly configured. You have to learn. You have to acquire the skills. You have to gather information and work on your abilities. And if you push yourself to try things you have yet to learn completely, you’re going to make mistakes. You need to learn.
“Mistakes” are how we learn. It’s how we get new information that guides us in a different direction. It’s how we alter the course of our days, weeks, months… our lives.
When I got that through my thick skull (which is actually thicker than usual – my family has dense bones, which is fortunate for us all), everything changed. Everything opened up. I was free to fail! I was free to live my life! Woot!
Then the details of the book slipped my mind, and I went back to “rigid mode” where I got upset about screwing up, all over again. Because that’s what I knew. That was my old default mode.
With TBI, I think it’s very common for us to be rigid and get certain ideas stuck in our minds. We have A WAY THINGS ARE DONE, and we get stuck in that rut, thinking it’s THE ONLY WAY THINGS ARE DONE. We don’t want to mess up. We want to be successful, so we cling to THE WAY we think we should be using.
Over. And over. And over again.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I do that all the time, and I get so frustrated when it’s clearly not working. First I get frustrated because it’s not working, no matter how often I do it. Then I get frustrated because I forgot — yet again — that I’m too rigid, at times. I get stuck in a rut, and I get upset with myself.
But really, it’s all just lessons. And it’s all just reminders.
And if I can not get all caught up in beating myself up over it, and being hard on myself, these are actually really useful lessons. More lessons. Tons of them. In abundance.
Really, the only thing that can go “wrong” is if I overlook that, get stuck in a rigid mindset, and refuse to learn.
Fortunately, life has a way of reminding me of what I need to know.
And if I can be okay with not being okay — for however long it takes me to figure things out — then I’m good to go.