I screwed up. Again. And to make matters worse, my transgression fell in an area I supposedly know how to navigate: communication.
After carefully choosing my words and even putting in a little extra effort (because that’s what friends do, right?) the response I received seemed a little…off. I could tell something was wrong, so I probed a bit. I eventually figured out what I had done, and I’ll file that in my brain to help me make future decisions. After all, who wants to make the same mistake twice?
Actually, I don’t want to make a mistake ever.
Mistakes make the voices in my head scream at me: You should have known better! You’re not any good at this. Why do you think you’re so smart? You need to stop trying; you’re just going to screw it up anyway. You don’t belong in this space.
Today was no different.
Very slowly, however, I am learning that those voices might be dirty liars. I think back to when my kids would start a new unit in school. The first lesson often began with a pretest, and one kid or the other would come home beating him/herself up when the results were less than perfect. Wrong answers left one kid in particular feeling like a failure.
My response (hopefully soothing) was always some variation of the same theme: You’re not a failure! If you don’t miss any questions, the teacher won’t know how to plan her lessons. Mistakes show her what to teach you.
I believed this then, and I believe it now: we don’t learn from the right answers; we learn from the wrong ones.
So why, oh why, is this aphorism so hard to apply to myself?
As a professional communicator, I know I have to understand my audience so I can say/write/do things that resonate. So I watch and listen. I look to see how people react to what I’m saying/writing/doing.
Pro tip: head nods do not always mean you’re on the same page.
I know that outward agreement might be superficial so I may have to dig deeper. But I’m human. Sometimes I get caught in the trap of assuming no verbalized dissent means no dissent at all, AKA Woohoo! I hit it! I was right! I get overconfident and fail to take pulse checks to see where I may have missed the mark.
That’s exactly what happened this time. I was just cruising along, spouting a bunch of Tammy-fied wisdom, when eventually it dawned on me that the responses I was getting seemed…off. As soon as I figured out what I had done (humble yourself and ask questions, people!), the real problem started. The “you’re a failure” voices went crazy in my head, telling me what an imposter I was to think I knew anything about communication or even friendship. Who do you think you are? You SUCK. Just shut up and stay in your lane.
And now we’re back to my kids’ school mistakes. *Cue the mom voice in my head* Just because you failed doesn’t make you a failure.
We have to understand what we don’t know in order to learn and grow. What’s that? A little louder for the people in back (and my bruised ego):
MISTAKES MAKE US BETTER.
This is hard stuff, friends. Most us possess a profound aversion to failure. We don’t like to make mistakes because we’re afraid we’ll look silly or stupid or somehow less than. And maybe we will, but only for a minute. In the long run, making mistakes–failing–has immense potential to make us better. We need the backdrop of what not to do to teach us what to do.
Live and learn.
And take your own advice, Tammy.
*As proof I have to learn the same lessons over and over, read Digging up dirt.*
I think we (particularly women) suffer from some degree of imposter syndrome. That is what drives us to be perfect (not possible). Plus women have to do what Fred Astaire does – only backwards and in heels.
You are so right.