Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Letter To My Daughter #1 - Mistakes

I have some terrible news. Well, it's probably not terrible for you. I'm sure you've already realized this news I'm about to reveal. This is really for me. The terrible news I have for me is: you're not perfect. 

That was hard for me to write.

As much as I might want to hold on to the thought that you are my perfect little girl, you're not. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to make lots of mistakes. Glorious, wondrous, spectacular mistakes. Some will make you laugh and some will make you cry but you'll make them. If you do it just right, some of those mistakes will be the best thing that ever happened to you. In fact, most of your mistakes will make you a better person provided you take the time to learn from your mistakes.

I spent most of my childhood scared to death that I might make a mistake. The one thing that drove me through childhood was doing everything I could to avoid making a mistake or failing in any way. Guess what? I still failed. I made lots of mistakes and I even learned from some of them but it wasn't graceful and it wasn't good for me. I was a stressed out kid. I spent many nights in my room crying over my homework because I was worried that I wouldn't get all the answers right. That is not a good way to spend your childhood.

What I failed to understand was mistakes and failures are good. They are the best way to learn. Sometimes a mistake can even lead to something better. A misspelled word can lead to a new joke or a spilled glass of water can inspire a new painting or failed test can lead to revelation that you're pursuing the wrong degree. Failure can motivate us to do bigger and better things. 

Now, don't run off and start making every mistake you can. That's not healthy, either. Some mistakes can be permanent and devastating. If you're curious about what it's like to live with only one arm, it's probably best to just tie one behind your back for a while instead of chopping it off. When you make your mistakes, you need to be in an environment that can support it. Fortunately, most environments can. However, you still have to use your brain. Think about the consequences of the risk you're taking and ask yourself if you can live with those possible consequences. Will writing this English paper as a series of haikus (thereby possibly getting a failing grade) keep you from your academic goals or will it just be a tiny blip from which you can recover? Will getting into the car with a drunk driver be worth the possibility of never being able to walk again (or worse)? What can you live with and what really matters in the long term? Ask yourself this every time you are about to take a risk. Know that the risk your taking is recoverable. (HINT: You can recover from almost every mistake.) That doesn't mean that your failures can't still be spectacular.

Enough with the lecture. Back to my point.

I want to see you take chances. I want to see you make mistakes. I want to see you fail and fail spectacularly. In fact, I'll be right there beside you cheering you on. When you walk up on stage at your school talent show and read a poem you wrote that takes playful jabs at your teachers and nobody laughs, I'll be in the back of the room giving you a standing ovation. Then I'll help you make it better -- if you want me to. When you organize your classmates to boycott your school's lunch program in order to get better and healthier options, I'll be there to help you print up the flyers (or, more likely, set up the Facebook page). When the administrators call you a troublemaker and want to discipline you, I'll be there to help you make them understand why what you're doing will teach you and your fellow students more than just about anything they're teaching you from those textbooks. Whatever it is you decide to do, your mother and I will both be there to help you learn from your mistakes and to encourage you to try again. It's up to you to try.

Now get out there and start screwing up. I promise you it won't hurt nearly as much as you think it will. 


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