The other day, my 10-year-old asked if she could teach me how to paint wildflowers. While I am a person who delights in all forms of creativity, art has always been the most challenging for me. I can throw some colors on a piece of paper, but ask me to visually represent a specific object, and you’ll receive something that looks like a young child made it. My daughter, however, has taken many hours to master the art of small flower watercolor painting. As she demonstrated her techniques, I followed along but couldn’t quite get my messy blob petals to match her delicately formed ones. “Beautiful mistakes,” we decided to call my stray colors. “Because when you make a mistake, you can keep going and make something new and beautiful out of it.”
I try to be mindful of my language around this topic, as even the word “mistake” implies there is one right way you can get wrong. Some of us learned early: good girls follow directions. If you do what you’re told, you won’t stand out or get into trouble. We can hide behind this facade of who we think we’re supposed to be for decades. What starts as protection from criticism can easily become a cage with no room for individuality or creativity. Keeping up appearances by trying to stay inside the lines can drain our essential life force to near empty.
The old way, the way of perfectionism says:
Get it right the first time. Don’t make a mess. Don’t be a bother.
Really though, haven’t we had enough of this already? Life is messy! It just is. The artistry of my life–my decisions, the ways I fail, the ways I grow–doesn’t match the artistry of yours, and thank goodness! Our messes make us unique. I think of a flower with a torn petal. Shall we toss it to the wind for being imperfectly symmetrical, or will we cherish its fragile beauty?
If you’re someone who finds her/his/their self caught in this perfectionist prison, what would happen if you fell out of character once in a while? It can be scary to forgo the filter and start responding authentically. Being raw and real, even with self-consciousness, is a service though: we help other humans feel better about making mistakes and being seen too. When we forgive ourselves for not always getting it right, we don’t become more self-absorbed and narcissistic. We become more available. There is more of us to give to others when we’re not busy fighting ourselves.
Old patterns get entrenched and so often release slowly, with intentional practice. My personal practice lately has been about embracing with compassion, curiosity, and humor what I’ve been calling “life U-turns”. A life U-turn is when we get invested in a new idea for change and go full throttle towards it, only to say “never mind” some steps in. When we do a U-turn, we head back to where we came from with a different point of view. Was it a personal flaw that caused us to move toward that new direction in the first place? Was precious time wasted doing the wrong thing? Or is it possible the “mistake” re-affirmed some essential value we still hold, allowing what was too familiar to be discovered anew.
Mistakes clarify direction; coloring over the lines helps us think outside the box. I say “Hallelujah!” to this trial and error path forward. As we return to public life, what used to be commonplace feels novel and pretty bumpy. I hope to appreciate even the awkward moments, navigating new boundaries and getting used to each other again. Shall we give it a try, even with our differences? Slowly, let’s stumble forward and rediscover each other’s wholeness again.
Wishing you ever deepening breaths and the gift of seeing beauty in unexpected places,
If you’ve been curious about working together in 1-1 sessions, listening to the first 10-15 minutes of this recent podcast interview will give you a better idea of what my practice is like. If you listen further, you’ll also hear stories about how I became a therapist and what working as an interfaith hospice chaplain taught me. While the title of the interview is Grief and Loss, and we do talk quite a bit about death and dying, it’s also about embracing the inherent discomfort of change. Give a listen if you like!
The current season of the Release & Empower Women’s Circle is coming to a close, and we will be having our final closing ceremony next week. If you’re curious about joining us in the fall, check it out here. We’re going back to the closed group model so the women participating will get to dive deep with each other. We’ll also be syncing up with intention, ritual, and accountability in new ways, so stay tuned for more details by signing up for my mailing list.