I've been doing a lot of thinking about mistakes lately. I've always had perfectionist tendencies but I realized they hindered me more than they helped. I was paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, any mistake, no matter how trivial.
This is one of the things I'm trying very hard not to instill in my own children. I read books like The Joy of Doing Things Badly and Better by Mistake to remind me that in order to learn, we have to be willing to be less than perfect. And that results shouldn't define enjoyment.
That said, a few days ago I was feeling very frustrated at being micromanaged. When I sat down to pin down my thoughts to figure out why this was bothering me so, I realized it was all about mistakes. When someone micromanages another person, it not only indicates a complete lack of faith in the other person's abilities, it reinforces the message that mistakes are intolerable. After all, the only reason to exert such a level of control is to ensure that nothing goes wrong. People who believe they can't do anything right themselves rarely bother to enforce their views on someone else.
No wonder it struck so hard. Not only does it imply incompetence (an accusation which irritates me faster than almost any other) but it also reinforces the old poisoned messages that failure is not an option. That it is so unacceptable as to require complete taking over, regardless of consequences. That even the opportunity to do it right must be denied.
In other cultures, mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn, a value-neutral method of evaluating levels of skill. This is a concept which is almost unfathomable to a North American mind. Imagine a school where children's errors are brought up in class and used as a teaching opportunity. Imagine it being done without scarring the children in question.
Dr. Phil often points out that people can be right or they can be happy. This advice is usually directed at feuding couples who insist on dragging out details of an incident which happened over a decade ago. But I think there's a deeper logic to it. If I don't have to worry all the time about being right, if it's okay to be wrong, if it's possible to be wrong and still be a worthwhile and good person, then that's a lot of psychological weight off my shoulders. Because no one is right all the time and it takes a phenomenal amount of energy to try.
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