I just finished reading a great post from Dr. Perry from Make it Ultra about dealing with “Imposter Syndrome”. It takes a good look at the anxiety and insecurity that comes from success and starts with one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, which addresses the fear of being found out as a fraud in spite of success. Actually, I suspect it’s a fear of being found out as a fraud because of success. After all, if you don’t call attention to yourself, you can stay camouflaged in mediocrity for your whole life, right? Which may be a very sound reason for people to not aspire to greatness of any degree. And I believe that so many people have been afraid to stand in the spotlight because they know that, even if they pull this off this time, they may not be able to replicate it. Can you imagine the pressure of coming up with the manuscript for the second book in the Harry Potter series and how exponentially terrifying it became with each book that came after it? J. K. Rowling had to have been as brave and resilient as she was brilliant to travel that road. And the books and movies were such a success, had such an impact on our culture, that hoping to follow it with anything else could have been paralyzing.
Dr. Perry’s post examined the anxiety of maintaining a self-imposed façade, but what it brought to my mind was the risk successful people always take of failing. Moreover, the conflict I’ve often felt personally between absolutely avoiding failure altogether and reveling in the things I learn from failing. I don’t like to fail because I grew up believing that failure came from mistakes, and mistakes were not what you wanted to make. Mistakes were often followed by punishment, right?
As I grew older, though, I began to learn the value of mistakes. Mistakes show that you’re trying something. More importantly, I believe there is more to be learned from mistakes than from successes. I can’t tell you how many good recipes I’ve made and could never replicate because I couldn’t recall how I got there. Now, if I had a recipe and it turned out badly, there’s a really good chance that not only do I know exactly what I did wrong, I’ll also make sure I never make the same mistake again. The same can be said of almost every learning experience. We might learn the hard way, or we might be fortunate enough to learn from the experience of others, but we learn, adapt and improve, wiser in the end.
My most memorable experience with this was in the mid-80s when I had to learn the software for four different word processing programs. I shared that story in a previous post, “Failure is not Fatal.” I’d had absolutely no experience with computers and was given no directions for the programs. Everything I learned, I learned from mistakes. I not only knew to not do something, but (more importantly) I learned why I shouldn’t do and what would happen if I did do it. Best of all, actually, was that I learned every mistake that could be made by the people I would be teaching the programs to – and how to fix each one. And they understood that I had already made those same mistakes myself and that there wasn’t a situation that could not be remedied. Then there are the two daughters I’ve parented, my 21-year marriage and every job I’ve ever had. Lots and lots of learning curves and lessons!
I think it’s so important for us to be merciful and gentle with someone when they make mistakes – especially with ourselves. Everyone learns in their own unique way, at their own pace. Mistakes provide valuable information. Mistakes are just a sign that you’re trying something new. And mistakes are (usually) transient. After all, you’ve never heard a toddler announce, “This walking thing just isn’t for me!” because they fell. We’ve all learned how to walk, and some have even become Olympic, record-breaking runners in spite of all the times they fell down when they were learning to walk. Don’t ever be afraid to fall. But more importantly, be sure to always get back up again. Remember, Rocky didn’t win the fight in the self-named movie, but no one questions that he was, absolutely, a winner.