This is actually my first life coaching article (first published on my blog).
There was so much I wanted to write about that my first draft came out as twelve pages of incomprehensible babble. This version is certainly an upgrade, I have constructed full sentences and everything. But you may wonder, what is the point of publishing something unless it is exquisitely crafted, witty and has a proper title? Well, I needed to do something real.
If perfectionism is your jam and curse, you may understand the sentiment.
Let me paint the context for you. I had some fine perfectionist tendencies as a kid. Then I got some help – I entered a competitive, pressure-cooker environment known as law school, learning helpful things along the way like how not to relate to normal people. I then attained master perfectionist status as a practising lawyer, agonising over drafts and reading emails 100 times before they were sent (just as I know that clients agonised over their replies – “thx” or “gtg”). The highlight was working on a case concerning a badly placed comma in a contractual clause. Who notices these types of things? Lawyers do.
Here's the crunch. There is a time and a place for perfect comma usage. But allowing your fear of getting things wrong to guide your behaviour can be crippling. It stops you from getting that real-world practise which you need to nurture your gifts and bring your creative imaginings to life. I would love to write the perfect article for you. But such a thing is not possible and my striving to do so would mean that I would be publishing once a year, on a good year.
Let’s pause and extend ourselves some kindness. It’s uncomfortable being a beginner, especially as we age. Doing something without the guarantee of being good at it or having it financially remunerate you is not so easy in today’s society. Want to play the piano? We find ourselves lamenting that we did not begin at age three and so will never "catch up". Learning Mandarin quickly becomes depressing when we focus on the thousands of characters we don't know and not the ten characters it took a fortnight to learn. Going back to uni feels uncomfortable when we realise we grew up on the music that the next generation now ironically discovers when indulging their vintage music phase.
We glorify the expert, not the beginner. The message we receive is that it is better to stick with something you don’t like but you’re good at, rather than do something you do like but you’re bad at. Yet sometimes the humble open-curiosity of a beginner is exactly what a situation requires. And other times we just need to stretch our brains to learn something new (which funnily enough can have the result of enhancing our expertise in other areas).
It is a funny kind of paradox that letting go of the outcome helps, especially if you are highly invested in the activity. Quitting your obsession with being good (as that relates to others and the future) will free up your energy because you can now occupy the present. Relaxing helps with performance, as every elite athlete and musician is well aware. And who knows, perhaps letting go of the outcome increases your enjoyment of the practise so you can come back to it more readily.
If your activity requires any type of publication to the world, it helps also to accept that you have no control over the response of others. Once you have released something it is up to others to reject, praise or ignore your tender heart offering. Respect that people have the right to choose. You can control your response to their response, but not doing something because you are bothered by your thinking about what other people may think about you is… well, you can see the trap.
So why not try starting something new. Do it because you want to do it and not because it would look good on a c.v. Be genuinely curious about your subject matter. View your “failures” as additional data points. Suck at it. In fact, if you haven’t been screwing up then this is probably a sign that you are not stretching yourself. Make sure that the process has inherent value for you. If this is true, it will be easier to let go of the outcome. Release things before they feel perfect; good enough will do. And eat some chocolate for goodness sake, you did good.
Obviously, there will be times when nothing less than perfection will do. But your chance of performing at this crucial point will depend on all of your learning which preceded it. That is, all the learning garnered by your willingness to fail, again and again. If you treat yourself with kindness then you will learn what you need to know to make the next attempt better.
Imagine a world in which our politicians and leaders felt free to own up to their mistakes, were frank in their admission that they could have done something better, and, perhaps of equal importance, could accurately explain what they did right. Do you think they would do a better job?
What if our kids felt the same? What if they understood that life was not a series of accomplishments, in which you burn time between accolades because the journey is never as important. What if they were encouraged to learn without the weight of the future being on their shoulders for every single thing? What if we shifted the emphasis from getting the right answer to instead nurturing a sense of wonderment and joy at all the things there is to learn?
Our relationship to learning has even greater significance in the context of the climate emergency. Our response needs to be coordinated and creative. It needs to step beyond the worldview and the structures which created it. And guess what – we are going to screw up at points. We have to be alive to the fact that any setback will be hijacked by people who say “well there’s the evidence for why we shouldn’t bother” or “let’s revert to tried and tested methods, which have served us so well – new coal mine anyone?”. We have to be willing to be humble and not give up when the haters of this world lazily criticise our efforts. Honour the learning process and honour your bravery. We need to learn better.
Which is why I will publish this article. Chances are it will be soundly ignored. Perhaps it will irritate the grammatically conscientious amongst us. You may disagree with every sentence.
To all this, I say: thx.