When I was twelve, I taught myself to ice skate. I didn’t take classes; instead, I went to the ice skating rink regularly, wearing stirrup pants (remember those?) over knee pads (no, I was not cute at twelve). I needed the knee pads because I fell. Like, all the time. I remember an adult saying that every time she looked over, I was sitting or kneeling on the ice.
But, for some reason, I kept at it (and I was not a kid who stuck with most things). I kept falling. But the more I fell, the less scared I was of falling. I never broke a bone, I never cracked my head open. Yes, I ripped a couple pairs of stirrup pants, and none of the cute hockey boys ever talked to me or helped me up. Each time I fell, I learned what situations to avoid, how to quickly skate around someone instead of tripping, how to stop without hitting a wall. I learned to skate pretty decently, and finally got to the point where I stopped falling altogether. I still skate occasionally. And I don’t think I’ve fallen since I was thirteen.
What amazes me about how I taught myself to skate is that soon after, when I was a teenager, I became a perfectionist. I became scared of metaphorically falling, of making a mistake. In order to hold my world together, I told myself that I had to make sure everything was always just right. Perfect.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in my early thirties, that I allowed myself to fall again. Someone (okay, fine, a therapist) encouraged me to stop trying to do everything perfectly and instead allow myself to make mistakes and do work that was just “good enough.” The more “good enough” work I did, the more practice I got. The more mistakes I made, the less scared I was of making them. And because “good enough” doesn’t take as much time as perfect, I got a lot more done. No one died from my mistakes, and nothing fell apart (well, not in any major way). My work – both on the job and creatively – got better. I became confident, like my twelve-year-old self again.
In my self-employed life, I’ve made many mistakes. I ran my first business into the ground. I’ve had conversations with clients that weren’t received quite the way I’d anticipated. I’ve been shot down, criticized, ignored. But I’ve also gotten myself out of debt, started a consultancy after I was laid off from a job, left clients who weren’t the right fit, built a good professional reputation on the strength of my work and my compassion for my clients. My skills have grown, not because I’m always trying to be perfect, but because I’ve learned that it’s okay to be a bit wobbly, that I’ll always be able to pick myself up after a fall.
So today, I encourage everyone to do three things: intentionally make (at least) one mistake, wholeheartedly embrace “good enough,” and then pick yourself up, celebrating the fact that neither has made your world fall apart.