Saturday, June 25, 2011

Freedom to Fail

Learning to fail while writing was the single best thing I've discovered, for it set me free to pursue my dreams in a whole new way. When I thought I had to be perfect, the bar was too high to perform at all, and so I backed away. Then I hated myself for my fear, and I mercilessly berated myself for my weakness, and I ended up treading water when I could have been swimming and getting somewhere.

Failing is not the enemy. Fear of failing is. Fear of anything is more damaging than the actual thing that we are dreading happening to us. Actually failing is not the end of the world. We have to fail in order to improve at something, and quite often we fail through no fault of our own. Life is not always fair, and sometimes it's our time to win and sometimes to lose. Learning to accept this and not take it personally has opened up the whole world to me.

I like seeing my kids fail, and feel disappointed and frustrated, and then recover. It doesn't have to crush them. I really didn't understand this concept before about two years ago. I find that my relentless drive to compete with others has abated too, as I think it was tied into the fear of failing. Understanding that it's necessary to fail on the way to success has opened up my mind and allowed me to be much more generous with others.

I always wanted my writing to be perfect before. That's a big part of why I began blogging in the first place. I knew if I had to write something every day and put it out into the world, it wasn't going to be perfect. I wouldn't have hours to wordsmith and finesse and make it brilliant. It was going to pour out of me, and be readily available on the internet, and I was going to have to let go of my need for it to be polished and perfect.

I realized over the initial six weeks of the blogging experiment that I got marginally better with each post I wrote. I worried less, and didn't obsess over it as much, and I allowed the thoughts and words to come without censoring them so much. Our inner censor is mean and cruel and should be abolished altogether, if not outright murdered. That critic inside of me stopped me at every turn before, and offering myself the freedom to steamroll over him in order to meet a daily deadline turned his volume to mute and allowed me to get on with the business of writing.

Freedom to fail is an essential ingredient for anyone who is successful. If you can't fail, you can't succeed either. I love that I can teach my kids this, and understand it somewhere in the marrow of my bones. It's not an idea anymore, but a way of life. The criticism or judgement I receive from others hurts a lot less when I know I'm allowed to fail. I can just say, "Oh well, I tried, and I'll keep trying until I get better at what I'm doing."

The praise tends to mean more too, because you aren't arguing with the person, saying, "Oh, it's not actually that good" the way I used to. I thought this sounded modest, but really it was garbage. Being a perfectionist is so hard because the praise doesn't reach you (as you don't tend to believe it) and the criticism destroys you (because you've already told yourself what you've produced is no good). I can now take a compliment and express genuine gratitude for it, and I can take it to the bank of my soul and let it grow there, paying dividends in my confidence for years to come.

I've learned that if I read or watch or experience something that moves me or changes me in some way, I let the artist know, because that praise means so much. If we know we aren't perfect, but we are getting a little better at what we are working on every single day, then we have laid the ghost of perfectionism and it can't wound us like it used to.

If you struggle with wanting to be perfect, I encourage you to set a goal of imperfection in what you are doing for a short period of time (six weeks was great for me). Then when you hit your goal, and see that the world didn't implode, and you recognize that your work is slowly improving, you will have a chance to silence that inner judge, and you will regain the keys to your own creative kingdom.

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