Dealing With Mistakes
I am very hard on myself.
Growing up, I never felt pressure from any outside influences to perform, or to be perfect. My parents were always very supportive and prioritized my happiness over my grades at school. However, I developed this intense drive over the years to strive for perfection in all areas of my life. High school, cégep, and university became increasingly stressful for no other reason than the fact that I wanted to get an A in every class I took (and on each exam I wrote).
Aside from school, I wanted to be successful in my daily life, too. Everything I did had to be done correctly; there was no room for error. I wouldn't try a lot of new things out of fear that I would make a mistake and embarrass myself in front of a group of people. If I couldn't do something perfectly, I wouldn't try it at all. This fear of performing for others prevented me from experiencing many activities with my peers, and further reinforced the idea that perfection was the only acceptable result.
Now that I have graduated, this performance perfectionism has subsided a little. I still feel it at work, but I am learning to accept that sometimes I will make mistakes and it is all part of the learning process. Regardless of how long you have been at a job, there will always be learning to do, and we have to realize that every "error" we make teaches us not only the correct way to do something, but also teaches us how to handle the mistakes we make. I'm learning to "cut myself a break" when it comes to performance (although it is extremely difficult and is still a work in progress!).
That being said, the idea for this blog post came last week when I made a rather significant mistake. It wasn't at work, but rather it involved one of the many responsibilities that comes with being an adult.
I panicked. I became so incredibly angry with myself. How could I be so stupid? My self-critical thoughts ran rampant. Because of one mistake, I felt that I was a bad person and didn't deserve anything good. My mind went into self-destructive mode: "no food for tonight; you can't eat. You don't deserve to after being so stupid". I became obsessed with thinking about all the ways I could punish myself for my mistake. I called my parents in tears and when my mom suggested I watch a movie to take my mind off things, it became hard to even do that. How dare I permit myself to enjoy a movie after making such a careless and dumb error?
The thing is, my "performance perfectionism" is becoming a lot less severe, and I am learning to try new things even though I might not be "the best". But my desire for perfectionism in life remains quite high. I am trying to not be so hard on myself and realize that everything that happens in life teaches us something. Sometimes that involves being better able to handle a situation, or learning how to get through a difficult time. The lesson isn't always clear at the start, and sometimes may take years to reveal its purpose. But when I think back on everything I have dealt with in my young adult life, I am starting to see that the old adage "everything happens for a reason" really does ring true.
Some people I have met throughout my life have encouraged me to let my mistakes "fuel my drive" for self-improvement. For example, if I were to receive a poor grade on a test, I should in turn study as hard as I could for the next one, and put in every ounce of effort possible in order to improve my result. Or, if I would make a mistake at work, I should then ask for help and learn the correct way to do a particular task so that I don't make the same error again.
It is still hard for me to adopt that mentality. When I make a mistake, I feel more "defeated" than "driven to improve". But I'm working on it. Ultimately, life is one big complicated mess of opportunities to learn. We need to remember not to judge ourselves for the mistakes me make along the way.
One of my favourite nurses from treatment always told me to "be kind to myself". It is a mantra that I repeat on a daily basis. I tell the students I teach at work all the time that mistakes are okay (and we even try to celebrate them! Mistakes are proof that we are trying, after all). So, what makes me different? 2017 has been a difficult year, but if I can go into 2018 with a kinder attitude towards myself and who I am, I think I will have laid the groundwork for an amazing year.