In a few days I’m interviewing for a part-time job—just a little something to keep the rollercoaster anxieties of the freelancer at bay. It’s made me reflect on my past interview experiences…particularly when I was in the hunt for a teaching position.
It may be fair to say that I have a teensy bit of a tendency to be a perfectionist. It may also be fair to say that the older I get, the more I realize what a futile situation I create for myself in striving to do things perfectly.
I have, however, found one thing I am absolutely perfect at: imperfection. I’ve got it nailed. Fall short every day? Check. Lack discipline? Check. Disappoint people? Check. Miss the mark? Check. Make mistakes? Check.
I’m all over this imperfection thing.
If I would have known how perfect I could be at imperfection when I was in my 20s and 30s, I could have saved myself a whole lot of struggle.
As life turns knowledge into wisdom, I have learned that the desire for perfection is actually quite evil. It is what undercuts effort due to fear of failure. Creative sparks die in the wind of perfection. Dreams get minimized if they seem unattainable…and minimized dreams are not dreams at all, but consolation prizes.
To be clear, I’m not embracing purposefully doing things poorly, but I am embracing the idea that fearing you might do something poorly is no reason not to try. I’ve failed a lot lately, and…I’m still here. That alone speaks to the myth of perfectionism. Perhaps perfectionism is just ego wrapped up in a pretty package.
As I think about this, I am reminded of my days on my college softball team. Now there is a lesson in embracing imperfection.
To set the scene just a bit, the transition from slow pitch to fast pitch for girls’ softball happened when I began high school. That meant that until I was a freshman, the only softball I had ever played was slow pitch. When I went to the orientation meeting for my high school team, I was so put off by the coach that I decided I didn’t even want to try out for the team…so I never learned to play fast pitch. (By the way—deciding to let the coach’s personality be the reason I didn’t try out was a stupid, short-sighted decision on my part. Ah, youth…)
Fast forward to college. Some girls from the school’s softball team were encouraging me to try out for the coming season’s team. I told them that I had no experience with fast pitch, but they said it didn’t matter—that no one would be cut from tryouts because they simply needed enough girls to form a team and let the university fulfill its Division I status. No risk in that, right? So I decided to go to tryouts…where there had to be at least one hundred girls attempting to make the team. So much for no cuts.
As long as I was there, I thought, what the heck? I’ll give it a shot. Thankfully, my old abilities came back to me, and my fielding skills were pretty tight. But next was batting…
Since tryouts were in late winter, they were indoors. This meant that the batting portion of the tryouts was a pitching machine firing out whiffle softballs…and…I crushed them. I mean…I impressed myself. Piece of cake, I thought. Maybe this fast pitch wasn’t so hard after all.
And then spring came.
My first at bat in the lovely outdoors went something like this: I stood in the batter’s box and waited for the pitcher to throw the ball…only she already had. It was so fast, I barely computed its whizzing by me. And whizzing by me. And whizzing by me. I would try to swing and be so behind the pitch it was laughable—except to my coach. He looked at me with a “please tell me you aren’t seriously this bad/how did you get on the team/there is no way I can remediate you at this point” look on his face.
I did, however, achieve perfection that season—a perfect .000 for my batting average. The coach did use me as a utility player when he needed one, but if my memory serves me correctly, I struck out every time at bat. Every. Time.
At tryouts, I had no idea how poor of a fast pitch batter I would be. I had no idea how quickly I was barreling toward gaping imperfection. I had no idea how humbling it would be to go from a worthy player to one who pretty much accidentally made the team.
But I survived, and so did the team. And we had a whole lot of fun that season.
And I would do it all over again.
Of course, back then, I didn’t have the perspective of this lesson of imperfection. I just had the frustration of sucking at batting. But it was an important piece of the puzzle that would help me to eventually realize that I would have rather been on the team and struggled than not have been on the team at all.
Being perfect at imperfection is freeing. It takes the pressure off. It opens up possibilities because you know that if you strike out, you’ll live to play another day. And who doesn’t want to play another day?
In fact…I think a brand new game is starting…
All photos are my own.
Please note that there may be advertisements below via WordPress.com.
The presence of these ads does not constitute endorsement of the information, services, or products found in them.
On my very first day of high school, I missed the bus.
Not that big of a deal, right? But it was. That one experience fed on my anxiety and planted a seed that grew a fear of missing any public transportation. Silly, I know, but very real. No matter if I’m catching a train, plane, or bus—until I’m actually on it, I have an internal twitch of dread that I will miss it.
All because of my first day of high school.
You see, I went to a grade school that had no buses, so this wasn’t just my first school bus to high school, but my first school bus ever.
Though starting in a new school is intimidating, I was pretty sure I was properly prepared. In particular, I studied my bus instructions—where the stop was and the number I needed to know. Bus 107. I got this, I thought. (Of course, that expression hadn’t been “invented” yet, so more likely I thought to myself, “Don’t be such a spaz” or “Duh,” but the sentiment was the same.)
That morning, my dad asked, “Are you sure about the bus?”
“Dad, I know what I’m doing…” (Uh-huh, sure you do.)
“Okay, great. Just let me know if you need anything.” (Don’t go far, Dad—I’m going to need to take you up on that offer shortly.)
And off I went.
There I was, standing on the corner I was supposed to, at the time I was supposed to, and within a few minutes, a bus drove by. The bus driver slowed down and called out, “Are you going to Lake Park?”
Isn’t this setting up to be a successful little scenario? After all, Lake Park was my high school! But there was something that wasn’t right. The bus number wasn’t 107, and I was supposed to be on bus 107. My mind quickly jumped to a conclusion—our school had two different campuses—East and West, and my campus was East so this bus must be headed to West! (Not exactly an Einstein in the making since classes at West started at least a half hour earlier than East.)
“Yes, but East!” I shouted back to him. He gave me a look of knitted brows and gestured with his hand up to his ear letting me know he couldn’t quite hear over the engine, so I just waved at him to keep going…he smiled, shrugged, and off he drove.
And then I waited. And waited…And waited.
No more buses came down the street.
Time was running out, and I was risking being late to my first day of high school. I walked back home with tears welling up…How was high school going to be okay if I couldn’t even successfully catch the bus?! I felt remarkably stupid.
I walked into my house where my dad hadn’t yet left for work and was surprised to see me (since I knew what I was doing and all)—by that point I was pretty much sobbing. “Babe, what’s wrong?!”
“I missed the bus, Dad! I couldn’t even get on the bus! I don’t know what happened…some bus came by but it was the wrong num…” he cut me off with a “shhh” and a hug, reassuring me that everything was going to be all right. He’d drive me today, and we would figure out where the problem was for tomorrow.
And that’s exactly what we did. I was on time to school (thank God bus routes are long), and other than that, my high school career began without a hitch. But not without an emotional scar.
Do you want to know the answer to the bus mystery? It’s simple: I thought I was supposed to get on bus 107, but I was really scheduled for route 107. Which is exactly the route that the kind bus driver was driving when he called out to me. As a newbie, I didn’t know that the number of the actual bus meant nothing—but the route number in the window sure did.
Maybe if I would have reviewed the information with my dad when he asked, he could have caught my mistake. Maybe if I wouldn’t have been so quick to think I knew the answer when the bus driver was talking to me and instead asked for help, I would have been on my merry way. Maybe if I wasn’t so ready to show everyone that I knew what I was doing…I might have actually learned what I really needed to know.
Instead, throughout high school I had countless anxiety dreams of missing the bus, or catching the bus but seeing my backpack left behind on the curb, or running after the bus that was going too fast for me to catch, or trying to get on the bus but the bus doors wouldn’t open…you get the idea. The anxiety dragon feasts on these kinds of episodes.
I never missed the bus after that day, but it only took that one time to engrain in me the knee-jerk fear of it ever happening again. It’s a fear that stays with me still today. (Ask my husband how fun it is.)
Of course, as with all trials that come our way, it’s best to try and learn something from them. Yes, I did get a lifetime of public transportation anxiety, but I realized, too, that I shouldn’t be so quick to think I know what I’m talking about—an ever-evolving lesson for me.
Yes, I missed the bus that day in more ways than one, but you better believe it taught me to know life’s route numbers!
Barbara Walters retired last week. While I find her to be grating at times, she is certainly due much respect and kudos for being a pioneer in the news business. I watched some of her farewell coverage, and one thing stood out among many significant things she has accomplished in her life:
Her epic failure.
In a groundbreaking move for 1976, she was paid an annual salary of one million dollars to co-anchor the nightly news with Harry Reasoner. He was ticked that she was earning twice his buck, plus he hadn’t been asked if he even wanted a co-anchor—let along a woman. (Anchorman, anyone?)
He didn’t hide his disdain. In the video below (click the pic), they give a quick summary of the relationship. In this day and age of the “photoshop mentality,” where we gloss over everything to make it look the “best” it can be, I find his raw contempt remarkable.
The ratings tanked and the duo failed. I’m sure in part it was due to the anti-chemistry that Reasoner created, but Barbara herself has said that news anchor wasn’t her strength. Later that year, she found the very thing that would turn her career around—the Barbara Walters Specials that became a resident part of our pop culture.
But first she failed miserably and nationally.
It was kind of like she got pantsed for the whole world to see.
On top of that, first Gilda Radner and then Cheri Oteri did hilarious parodies of her, too. It was easy to laugh at her—she was Barbara Waawaa.
I can’t imagine what that must have been like. My feelings can get hurt if someone doesn’t like the gift I thought they’d love, and here she is being patronized by a coworker and made fun of for her speech impediment on national TV.
I certainly wouldn’t have blamed her if she just licked her wounds and said “enough.”
But she didn’t. She just kept working at it. She developed her skills and found the perfect niche for her abilities.
Flash forward nearly 40 years, and as part of her recent tribute, women currently in the national news industry came out to say thanks to her for paving the way for them. Scores of women. It was an amazing testament to the impact that Barbara Walters has made.
I wonder if she hadn’t failed as that news anchor…would she still have accomplished all that she did? I know there’s no way to really know that, but…I wonder.
Failure can indeed propel us toward fortune. I don’t just mean monetary fortune, but the fortune of our calling…our creativity…our heart. When we fall, we have to make that decision to get up or give up. When we choose to get up, we do so knowing that we could fall again. We consciously decide it’s worth it, even with the pain of falling.
And yet it is so hard to risk it. At least it is for me. I’m not a fan of getting pantsed. I’m not a fan of falling on my face. But if I only choose a path where I can ring up successes, then the path must be pretty flat and probably leads nowhere.
For several years I helped out with our school’s rollerblading unit for our younger grades. So many wobbly little ones trying to stay upright. Often I would tell a child, “You know what I think is the best thing to do to get over your fear of falling? Fall.” They would look up at me like “Who is this crazy lady helping me?!” but then I would tell them how once they fell, they would know what it feels like…and maybe it wouldn’t be so scary anymore.
Inevitably, they would indeed fall, and if I was there to help them up, I would ask, “So…what do you think about falling now?” and they would typically say “It’s not so bad!”
Of course, there are falls that you don’t bounce back up from. Some that can really break you, and I don’t mean to sugarcoat life’s devastating falls.
But Barbara Walter’s public failure is a great reminder to me that failure can be the first step on the road to fulfillment.
I need to let my wobbly little self continually put on my metaphorical roller blades and have at it. Hopefully every time I fall I’ll look up and say, “It’s not so bad!” And if it is bad, let’s hope there’s someone around who knows how to dial 911!