It was the tow bar.
My heart rate soars, my palms are sticky, cheeks burning and I feel sick to the stomach. I have just dented the car behind’s number plate with my tow-bar…the owner is pretty nonplussed but I know that this error is going to stay with me for some time.
My body reacts with the same ferocity, whether the mistake is big or small. The email you wish you could retrieve, not passing a test, saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment, forgetting a birthday…they all elicit the same physiological response.
That mistake can stay with me for days, haunt my sleep, seep into all my thoughts and tarnish even the happiest moments. If you recognise these feelings than you will also know the self-critical, mocking, internal dialogue that results, encourages us to brush the mistake under the carpet and never see or speak of it again.
In truth, my response to making a mistake is tightly entwined with my fear of failing but is failing such a bad thing? In fact, can making mistakes be the key to us evolving, emotionally and physically?
If we work or socialize in environments that penalise or degrade us for making mistakes then we are never given the opportunity to learn and move forward, as a society, industry, culturally or at a personal level.
Matthew Sayed has written a brilliant book called ‘Black Box thinking’ where he extolls the merit of industries such as aviation, that actively encourage reflection, retrospective analysis of the black box and cultivate a safe and secure environment where individuals can talk about their mistakes.
According to Sayed, “Nobody wants to fail. But in highly complex organizations, success can happen only when we confront our mistakes, learn from our own version of a black box, and create a climate where it’s safe to fail.”
I would argue that ‘highly complex organizations’ could also easily refer to our family and social relationships. Boy oh boy can they be complex.
As part of my study, I have had to undergo a lot of reflective practice. This is the brutal task of looking at one’s own actions and interactions in the very stark light of day. When I first started this process, I found it painful. Having to study your own values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours close up can leave you feeling hugely exposed. However, it has also helped me develop a deeper level of self-awareness and I hope, emotional intelligence.
Sophie of @wifemotherlife and I were chatting about making mistakes over Instagram. Sophie had a beautiful turn of phrase when recounting a conversation with her daughter’s teacher, “I remember saying to my daughter’s teacher, when she was little, that because of her anxiety over getting things perfect, we needed to focus more on helping her learn how to fail gracefully. That it be a learning experience and not something to be feared.”
What a wonderful way to think about our own mistakes. That we might perhaps allow ourselves to fail without retribution, instead, recognizing it as an opportunity to learn.
How does this all relate to the number plate saga? Well, the first step is to take control of my anxiety by recognising it for what it is, a learnt response and then acknowledge that it is out of proportion.
The second step, remembering the tow bar.
May we all go into 2018 failing with grace.