“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
I carefully scrawled these words of the beloved Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus onto a fresh sheet of watercolour paper. I have a dear affection for this quote. There’s something completely whimsical, fresh and altogether daring about it. These words say, “I don’t care what people think, or even what I think about myself; I’m just going to go for it and see what happens!” Part of the reason why this throwback phrase from my childhood resonated in a deep place within and why I chose to write it somewhere I could see, was because those words encapsulated who I desperately wanted to be. They also revealed to me that I wasn’t truly living them.
Though within I wanted to take chances, make mistakes and get messy, the thought of making anything close to a mistake was crippling. I had spent my whole life carefully crafting an image of perfection, covering up the slightest crack. I had built up my “dream life,” and carefully guarded and maintained my handiwork.
No failure. No chances. And certainly no mistakes! There was no room for those in perfection.
In truth, I thought I was defined by what I did. And in doing so, I set up a framework for life based on unsustainable performance. As long as I succeeded, I was a success. But as soon as I failed, I was no more impressive than my inability.
I thought that by being perfect, I would be free. But I had allowed myself to become enslaved to an unrelenting standard; perfection is a cruel master.
In my relentless pursuit of perfection, I also lived in fear of weakness. So I was determined to be the friend without flaw, the generous girlfriend, the best co-worker you could ever have.
I could not let anyone down.
Deep within me, there was a fear that if I were anything less than perfect, I would be rejected.
One day, I did let someone down, and my deepest fears were confirmed; at the sight of my weakness, they cruelly called me out. One mistake, and bitter accusations were hurled my way, an outpour of an angry reaction. No doubt that this person didn’t truly mean their words, but they crushed my soul. It was after this instance that I had to evaluate the impact that these few cutting words had on me.
Why, months after the fact, did I still cringe when this person entered the room? Why did I feel the need to prove myself?
I realized that the reason these words hindered me was because I had already created an unreasonable standard for myself. This person’s words did not give me the space to be human – someone in progress, growing and learning and stumbling – and I discovered that I had never given myself the space to be human either.
As I begin to see myself as a human being, not the picture-perfect super human I created, then my expectations for myself became more humanlike. I could take criticism. I could take the words from someone who didn’t know me all that well, and actually self-examine without the fear of automatically assuming their truth.
In weakness, I found my humanity. I thought I never let myself be a failure. In reality, I never let myself be human.
It’s a delightful paradox, really, that in our weakness we are strong. When we allow ourselves to not only be weak, but own up to our weaknesses, some beautiful things start to happen.
We become unmanageable
The opinions of others affect us all more than we’d care to admit. And in order to combat what others think about us, we tend to turn to managing their opinions. We learn what to say, what actions to perform, what to wear in order to receive our desired outcome. We long for praise and approval. But in managing others opinions, we in turn become managed by others!
When we own our weaknesses, then our view of ourselves is not disillusioned, so we can take others opinions with a grain of salt. When we allow ourselves to be human, then we are not surprised if we fall short. We can expect it. And move on!
We become true
Our weaknesses and strengths are part of who we are, not all of who we are! If we define ourselves by our strengths because we fear weaknesses, it’s not sustainable. Our strengths cannot last forever.
On the other hand, thinking we are only our weaknesses is completely untrue and not fair to ourselves! When we own what we are good at, along with the areas that could use some work, we open ourselves up for growth and process. What an incredibly healthy, powerful (and human) place to be.
We are more than our strengths, and more than our weaknesses. If we spend too much time focusing on either side, we will be unable to see ourselves as a whole, too busy trying to manage our self-image instead of exploring our actual substance.
We take ownership
To live as a victim of people’s opinions and our own self-hatred is a fairly weak place to be living from. We may not be able to choose what others think of us, or what unfortunate things happen to us, but we are free to choose how we posture our hearts in relation to these things, and therefore how we respond.
When we see our weaknesses and choose to own them instead of running from them, we are placing ourselves in a position of authority in our own lives. We can let the fluctuating things of this world break us, or we can see who we truly are through an accurate, holistic lens. When we know we are weak in certain areas, it frees us to actually take action in these areas, so they can grow stronger! Thus, we become stewards of our selves, rather than passive observers within our own lives.
“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
– image credit: Tiffany Von Photography