I’ve yet to meet a person who is perfect. Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing souls out there, but everyone has flaws or blind spots. Try though we may, there are times when despite research, practice, or the benefit of expertise we screw up. Hardly an earth-shattering revelation, right? Considering we regularly hear phrases like “I’m only human,” and “Nobody’s perfect,” it’s a safe bet we’re all in on this common knowledge. Why then is it that so many people in the world today have difficulty admitting when they’re wrong?
Growing up I had an obnoxious A-plus personality. There is no fault in trying to be and do your best. That’s the goal for most productive members of society. Even at the ripe old age of 5, however, I would melt down at my failures. My sisters and I are all eight years apart, you see, and they had giant head starts on abilities. Anything I tried, they had already mastered. As I struggled not to fall over on my two-wheeler and leave any lifelong scars, they were riding without their hands on the handlebars or doing tricks. Being so young, I didn’t understand about learning curves. I just knew that they could do it and I couldn’t. I was a failure in comparison. That perception of myself became a driving force and created somewhat of a monster, albeit it a cute chubby one with big blue eyes that made me seem less frightening.
Two short years later when I was in the first grade I was made aware of the concept of learning curves that had eluded me before. I found out because it was determined by some faceless school officials that I was ahead of that curve. Meetings were convened to debate how best to foster my growth. The initial idea was to have me skip a few grades. My mom took her ample size 8’s and stamped that out of contention immediately. She wasn’t fooled by the cerulean eyes. She knew the baby dragon that lived just behind them. She also knew that my immaturity and competitive nature would leave me floundering in an environment of biggers and betters. Eventually it was decided that I would stay in my proper grade and be given separate curriculum in addition to the classwork. So began my journey to perfectionism and ended the gestation period of the monster and resulted in its birth.
If you’re a co-operative kid you accept most things grown ups tell you as fact. You don’t imagine that these humans that are three times your size (and easily 100 years old in your mind) can be wrong. At face value their faith in my mental acuity seemed flattering, like I was some rare bird able to trained for the some big, yet to be produced animal revue. My task was solely to prove them correct in their assumptions.
Throughout my school years every new teacher I encountered was swayed by the opinions of those that came before them. There were no reassessments. I was a genius at 6 and nothing seemed to alter that fact. My failings and blind spots were never a topic of discussion, only my strengths. Twelve years of that can make even the most humble of students morph into a nightmare, and I didn’t even have the benefit of humility then. So who should walk in next? The SATs. I didn’t do the study groups or buy guides to succeed. I had, after all, been prepped for this throughout my school years, right? The Saturday morning came and went and the scores arrived a few weeks later. 1360. Not horrible, good even, but out of 1600…not the best. Not even the best in my own school. Failure lapped at my toes, and as a fair-skinned girl, it burned hot and deep.
The scholarships I had counted on were non-existent. My family lived the single income life without much to spare. Both of my sisters had gone straight into the working world, so that was now my path. Dreams of a career as a journalist, a psychologist, or a UN interpreter all floated away like seeds from a puffy white dandelion blown by the wind. One small test, one brief Saturday morning with a scantron sheet had done all of that to me. At least that’s how I saw it at the time.
It wasn’t until years down the road after pushing my own children academically that I realized it wasn’t done to me. I was an active participant and had many other avenues I could have pursued, but chose not to. When that epiphany hit me it opened the door to many other ones about myself. The biggest gift it gave me was the humility that the cerulean eyed baby dragon lacked. Like Smaug missing scale in the Hobbit or Achilles’ leaf-shaped soft spot near his heel, I was vulnerable and fallible. The freedom in that realization was palpable to me. I didn’t have to be perfect all of the time! I knew years before that I wasn’t, but by blaming it on circumstances I never fully owned it in a meaningful way. It also showed me that failure wasn’t a constant. You aren’t just a failure or a success, you’re made of both and there’s beauty in each.
Whenever I learn something new I want to share it and allow everyone to feel it. Not unlike a reformed smoker who physically feels much better and wants the same for their smoking friends. Let me tell you though…smoking is much less taboo to most folks than failure. The resistance I got from friends and family to embracing failures as life lessons for personal growth was staunch. They appeared to take it like I was giving them a directive to actively go out and do things wrong just to learn from it. That couldn’t have been further from the truth, but even as I continued to explain, they still wanted absolutely no part of what they deemed my crazy ramblings.
I couldn’t understand then and still barely comprehend now why admitting we can be wrong and can fail is such an anathema when everyone knows it to be true. I’ve witnessed people double down on hare-brained theories and go to contortionist level lengths to find the one tiny crack in an argument that will help them escape the horror of being incorrect. I ponder what looming specter they envision is on the other side of that admission that would make them run so quickly in the opposite direction. Life isn’t baseball. There are no lifetime error stats that follow you around keeping you from the Hall of Fame.
Life is a journey of experiences, some of which we learn on the first try and some which we must try at and fail at, and pick ourselves up and try again. There is no shame in that because we’re all going through it. Failing doesn’t make you less than anyone. In fact, it can teach you things that people with a higher win average than you might never learn. So the next time life hands you an F, or even a D, or a C, remember that there’s a curve and we all possess our own. Also keep in mind that there’s no shame in being wrong. Admitting it is much more human and endearing than pretending like you’re incapable of it. And who knows, it just might be the fertilizer that helps you grow.