Last year I took a handful of watercolor painting classes. The instructor would catch me hesitating on something and proclaim “It’s only paper!” I knew that. I knew nothing would be lost but a few cents of paper and a little bit of time. But it didn’t stop me from freezing up. Then, in my anxiety, I would overthink the painting and make color choices I would later regret. I let the fear of failure take the fun out of trying something when there was very, very little at stake.
Other times I would paint with reckless abandon. These were always the pieces I liked the most. These, too, would be marred by mistakes. Whoops! That paint splatter wasn’t intentional! But in my free-spirited mood, I would embrace it and add more splatters to give it friends or turn them into leaves falling. My failures taught me to be creative. My fear only ruined the fun.
There were other times, though, when my mistakes and failures have had higher stakes. When I was serving as a women’s leader in my church, I made some poor choices. One of those caused heartache for a woman I had been desperately trying to help. Grace turned that “paint splatter” into falling leaves, though. I gained her forgiveness, became her friend, and even introduced her to her future husband.
On many a hike, I’ve learned that a small stumble may prevent a larger fall. And I love this quote by Saint Therese of Lisieux, “O happy failure, from how many evils have you saved me!”
Intellectually, I am deeply grateful for the mistakes and failures I’ve experienced. They have taught me much more than my successes and good fortune. But instinctually, I am ashamed of them, and often don’t try something for fear of failure.
So, this year I plan to seek the blessings and the lessons of failure! With any luck, I will show my children not to fear mistakes.
In my day-to-day life, I am constantly asking “Am I failing my family?” I lose my temper. What am I even feeding them? I have no idea how to discipline. Where will this current path of parenting lead them? Does my husband know how much I really love him? Am I nurturing our marriage? This is not just paper! These are our immortal souls!
I need to stop obsessing over failure and have faith in the compounding effect of small efforts to improve every day. My mistakes and failures are not final. They are not being kept on a scorecard.
How am I dealing with the failures of my children? Am I instilling fear or teaching them to grow from it? When they mess up, I don’t want them to think, “Mom is gonna be so mad.” I want their reaction to be, “I need Mom.”
My friend, artist Megan Schaugaard, posted something she learned about mistakes from her own mother. “It’s all a process—even the failed attempts aren’t worthless if they help us grow. This painting my mom did before I was born was hung in our house for as long as I can remember and is still on my parent’s wall today. If you look closely, she missed a letter in ‘beginning.’ But she didn’t toss it and call it worthless. I love that it still had a place on our wall regardless of the misspelled word. It reminds me that life isn’t perfect but that every step to get there is of value. It also helped me remember that though none of us are perfect, we are loved and still have a ‘place on the wall.’”
I currently have dozens of writing ideas in my drafts folder. They’re imperfect. They’re partially developed. And because of my fear of failure, they’ve sat there for months to years. Some of them have lost all meaning to me and I don’t even know where I was going with it when I abandoned it. I don’t vow to stop doing this, because that is unrealistic. But I vow to try and let the flawed, incomplete and underdeveloped ideas get out of “drafts” and into “published” more often. It’s only (digital) paper! There is a place for it on the “wall!” The more I do with passion and the less I do with perfectionism, the more I will grow.
So, who’s with me?
QUESTION: How do you feel when you fail or make a mistake? What has a fear of failure held you back from trying?
CHALLENGE: Make a plan to do something this week that you’ve been avoiding because of your fear of failure! Cultivate a growth mindset in your home by modeling to your kids how to accept mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Actively point out to your kids when you make mistakes.
This article originally appeared on Christy’s blog here.
Edited for Power of Moms by Kimberly Price.
Car image provided by the author.
Feature image from Unsplash.