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The Art Of Mistakes
By Heather Klem

As recovering people, stripped of our destructive defenses and damaging coping mechanisms, we face overwhelming uncertainty. Who are we? Where do we fit into this complicated thing we call life? The most basic decisions confound us.

Beneath this cloud of confusion lies a thick sediment of fear. As a recovering perfectionist, the relentless terror of making a mistake has stalked me through much of my formative years and into my adult life. It is a painful brand of insecurity that stretches from the most basic option offered to me in a given circumstance — paper or plastic at the checkout line — to actual major life decisions, like whether or not a given job opportunity is right for me. Frozen in the paint aisle of Home Depot, the prospect of choosing a color for my living room could lock me in agonizing uncertainty, terrified that Downy was not preferable to Dover White.

As a chronic self-doubter I was obsessed with being right and avoiding wrong. Certain quandaries would incite that familiar self-criticism and those with greater consequences (or so I thought) would thrust me into all out panic. I am notorious for ending up in analysis paralysis, my mind worked into a mental pretzel trying to weigh pros and cons in an effort to hedge a mistake. More often than not this leads to the old “screw it“ mentality and I acquiesce to whatever feels easiest.

I am reminded of a line I hear often: Mistakes needn’t be fatal. What did I really think would be the horrifying repercussions of a Downy dyed room? Why did that choice feel so absolute and irredeemable? What if, after painting said room, I looked back on it with dismay? In the past I would have launched into an unrelenting self-lashing, my inner critic mounting its soapbox, shrieking that once again I had chosen wrong and confirming that this was to be the persistent theme in my life. I was simply ill-equipped to handle life on life‘s terms. This also accounted for my tendency to defer to others in terms of movie selections or meeting times. “You pick,” was automatic. Regardless of whether this stems from a place of not valuing my own preferences or is motivated by my need to people please, it encourages passive behavior. It allows for exhaustion or others to make decisions for me.

I wondered how I had arrived at this place of habitual hesitation. The message I received growing up was that mistakes were to be avoided at all costs. I didn’t get the memo that so many of these said mistakes were crucial pieces to navigating the waters of life and essential to learning. When I thought back over the landscape of my childhood where codependency thrived under the guise of perfectionism, socialization and parenting, I realized that in many cases I was taught to moralize any error in judgment. I was “bad” if I did not choose wisely or appropriately. This fostered a seemingly innocuous decision-making handicap that has followed me into adulthood. Today I know that it was highly uncomfortable for my parents to see their children struggle. Their admonishment was borne out of their own need to avoid the uneasiness that comes with watching those we love learn painful life lessons. While I may not be responsible for the messages I received growing up, I am in charge of doing the work to move past them.

How many times have I myself believed that I knew what was best for another person? Given my history with recovery, I know how essential it is that one be ready and willing to change in order for anything different to manifest itself. When I was deep in the raging waters of my own codependency, in a relationship with an active addict, I was convinced that I had all the answers to helping this person. These harrowing times taught me that it is NOT my choice as to whether or not someone seeks their own recovery. More so, I recognized how thin the line is between “help” and “support”. Anytime I do something for someone that they can do for themselves, I am cheating them out of the opportunity to flex that atrophied muscle, to walk through their fear of making a mistake and to stand in their choice, right or wrong.

I recently heard someone reframe their approach to decision making by offering the mantra of being decisive, not right.

This hit me right between the eyes. There was a cognitive shift and click, an “A-HA” moment where I realized that this nugget of wisdom could be the key to my freedom from perpetual reluctance and dread at making mistakes. I didn’t NEED to be right all the time; I simply needed to be decisive, to take responsibility for my life and its many decisions. I would embrace the fact that mistakes would be an inevitable and unavoidable byproduct of living, essential to learning what works for me. The frenzied game of mental ping-pong, vacillating between options and obsessing over choices still occurs, but I have opened up a space for less self-criticism and more acceptance.

Today I remind myself that it is natural to distrust my first instincts. In the past they have proved dysfunctional at best; a temporary, but always hurtful form of anesthesia from life. Once stripped of the addictions and compulsions, it is natural to notice an uptick in the stumbling. My job is not to fear it, fight it or overanalyze it, but to accept it. It is equally important for me to allow others the dignity of their own journey. Every time I am faced with offering sage advice to a loved one, I must be careful.

The underlying implication can be to others: I don’t believe in your ability to make a rational and appropriate decision. The message should be one of support and encouragement of self exploration. I do not know what is right for others. I am still working to figure out what is right for me. This can only be achieved in bouts of trial and error and that is part of being human.

Today I speak from a place where I know it is possible to navigate this world not out of fear, but out of wonder; to clear off the rubble of our past and to create something beautiful. There can be beauty and deep wisdom in mistakes.

Just for today I choose to be decisive. The worst that can happen is that I make an error and it’s rarely one of finality. Instead of becoming unhinged at the possibility of being wrong, I will find freedom in the process. I will accept that every mistake is an opportunity, every misstep vital on this journey to becoming my most authentic self.

Heather Klem Bio:

Heather is a yoga enthusiast, bookworm and lover of learning who is passionate about personal growth, unabashed authenticity and empowerment. A reformed pessimist and chronic cynic, perpetually pursuing positivity and self acceptance; encouraging others to supersize their dreams and create their own definition of beautiful.

Heather can be found blogging candidly at somewhereinbetweenblog.wordpress.com

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COMMENTS (2) | empowerment, self realization
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Comments

2 Responses to “The Art Of Mistakes”

  1. Anonymous
    December 26th, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

    Heather, your personal story resonated with me deeply. I too have deliberated ad nauseum about what color of paint to pick. I love that you have now shifted your goal to simply making a decision. I am going to try it out in my daily life.

  2. Heather
    December 27th, 2011 @ 6:45 am

    Wow. Thank you so very much for your kind words. I hope to continue to share my journey in this amazing publication. Once I was able to grasp the fact that so much of my current forethought and knowledge was based on past mistakes, I stopped viewing daily decisions as so fatal. I had to re-examine where the message originally came from. It’s okay to make the wrong choice, do something wrong or simply make a mistake doing something. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for every misstep in life. We are wiser and more beautifully imperfect because of it. Thank you for sharing!

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