I came across an interesting pair of idea this week, ones that made me pause and ponder. The writer posited that most of us underestimate what success in a given endeavor will require in the way of time and effort. We make some early gains, and tend to think our trajectory to full mastery will be short, nearly vertical, and uneventful.
What makes us truly proficient at an undertaking—parenting, writing books, cooking, accounting, teaching—are the bad days. When we fall upon our backsides, several things happen, each of which can work to our benefit.
First, if we’re dedicated, or even if we’re simply plagued by the type of mind that must have causes for every effect, then we eventually do a failure analysis. We figure out What Went Wrong, and how to avoid those factors in the future.
Second, we get back on the horse, try to give another talk, take on another family dinner. We try, try again, and as a result, we value the good experiences for the masterpieces they are. What we took for granted or as a matter of luck and planning, we now know to savor and share for the accomplishment it is.
Third, we become more compassionate, and more broad minded. When we see somebody whose kid is tantruming in the produce section, we no longer think, “That parent had better learn to set some limits.” We think instead, “Oh, you poor dears… This too shall pass.”
If the chocolate soufflé falls, we’re the ones who say it will still taste delicious with enough ice cream—we develop the ability to solve problems for others as well as ourselves, and this is critical to a sense of confidence. We become good people to know, people who have kindness and wisdom for when others blow a speech, get bad reviews, have a difficult child on their hands, or are suffering marital problems.
Everybody messes up, everybody bites off more than they can chew, everybody gets overwhelmed by circumstances. I hadn’t thought that these experiences were necessary to develop confidence, but upon reflection I suspect they might be.
To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of Mary Jo Putney’s classic and much loved, “The Rake,” a story about a man who has allowed failure to drive him to despair, only to find love requires him to hope—and to succeed—once again.