I have been looking for a way to tie a few thoughts together on the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, even at something we have never done before. As usual I found my answer in horses. Specifically in reading the Facebook posts of a dear friend who showed her horse for the first time last weekend.
I should admit before I go too far I am the worst about this trait and am probably writing this as much as a reminder to myself as anything!
Why is it that from the youngest age we beat ourselves up for not being perfect at something we have never done before? When you watch small children the transition between allowing themselves to freely learn and experience and make mistakes and where they start feeling like if they aren’t perfect they are failing is around the age that they start school. It seems to stem from grading that others do to us and we take on that pressure internally. Do not get me wrong, I am far from the “there should be no grades” or “everyone gets a ribbon” crowd. That makes me homicidal watching people think that way. But I do have to wonder if grades in life should have a component for going out on a limb and trying something completely new.
This question and the resulting lesson smacked me in the face a couple weeks ago. Life likes to do that to me. I had come back from showing at Pinto World and despite doing extremely well (including a World Championship) there were things I was beating myself up for. My horsemanship pattern I let myself get rattled and forgot everything I knew to do. My Showmanship pattern I blew the easiest part in a stupid way. In no way was I giving myself room for imperfection or to recognize that I had just come back from my first big show with a new horse and I had done really well. It was much easier to just find my flaws.
Very shortly after I got back I was invited to a dear friend’s son’s birthday party. Yes, before those of you who know me rush ahead, I did go. He is a cool kid and I wanted to be there since it was his first birthday in a new state. The party was at the martial arts studio he attends. There were nerf guns and games and the parents were competing against the kids (I was hiding in a corner watching). One of the boys was having a really hard time because he wasn’t as good as the other kids, in his mind, at shooting the balloons. Instead of scolding him the leader did two of the most smartest things I have ever seen. It was a lesson I will carry with me always. The first he stopped the young man and asked him “When you were born did you know how to walk? When you were born did you know how to talk?” Of course the child said no. The leader then asked him how he got good at them. Without a thought the response “I learned and practiced”. The leader than pointed out this was the same thing. That many times in our life we will do things we have never done before, and that just like learning to walk and talk we will fall down a lot at first but we will get better over time. I have to admit I was mesmerized watching this.
He then had the boy join him watching the next round of the game. And he quietly pointed out each time anyone else missed, especially a parent. By the end of it he had to say no more and the child was smiling. By letting the boy step back and watch he got him to see that his belief, that others were so much better than him, was nothing more than an illusion in his head. There was no long story or deep lesson he gave the boy, he just showed him we are all human and learning and he did it in the most simple, brilliant way.
It made me pause too and think about my own reactions. I had not watched anyone else in my Showmanship class and immediately walked out thinking I had failed. The irony, when I saw the judge’s sheets after, I was only one of 3 that had no major flaws. In Horsemanship I learned after I beat myself up that my horse has a history in that arena and while it was my fault for not slowing down and doing what I knew to do, much of what went on others have worked through learning to ride him too. I know now when we go back to that facility the next time we need more practice, just like learning to walk.
As I said earlier I watched a friend show this weekend. I saw her video and her caption was all she did wrong. Personally I thought she did a great job handling a young horse in a class she had never done before. Especially considering that a much more experienced handler had a horse in a later class flip himself over. What we do isn’t easy. The pros make it look easy, but they too have days where it all goes wrong, where they are still working on getting better and they too started out as green as we are now. At work my clients periodically refer to me as an “expert”. My definition of an expert is someone who did it wrong enough times and learned from that. But the only way any of us get to that point is by trying and failing. And it is time we all found that four year old inside us who is still willing to try and fall down and get up and try again, without judgement.
My challenge to each of you for the next month, pick something you have wanted to do and do it. Go and fail. Fail miserably. Stumble, fall, lose, break something, embarrass yourself. But then get back up and do it again. Over and over, until you are better at it, until the mistakes are less often. And as you do, it step back and watch others trying also. See their flaws as permission to have your own. Remember, someone new may be watching you!