Early this Monday morning I sent my niece off for a week visiting her top three college choices with my most sage advice. "Just imagine yourself being there in college while you are visiting, and see if it feels right. You can always change your mind if you don't choose well the first time." Her Mom, my sister, and I talked about this at the kitchen table before an early morning departure. Her Dad and I talked about the pressures of "exceptional performance" that morning as well, and the scary places it can drive us if we don't know how to deal with the stress of "perfectionism", a consistent message that is often received from the culture. Later that morning I reflected about my past choices - the ones I would call mistakes today - had I not come to appreciate what I learned from those "mistakes". My first college choice was ill-fitting. I transferred at the end of my freshman year. When I remember what I can from back then, I can't imagine how I might have chosen differently. Aware of my parameters when I made the decision, I could not have known that the first choice wouldn't work until I lived there. What I learned about myself was valuable. During that freshman college year I realized that I wanted life balance, that I loved mathematics and was quite talented in that academic area. My need for connection was apparent as I found myself unable to make meaningful connections with the young women there. I could feel my need for independence growing while I relied on my mother to bring me home nearly every weekend, not wanting to partake in the kind of socializing at that campus. I learned much from this college "mistake".
My first "real" job as a cost accountant brought me much frustration and disappointment. The corporate world saddened me and shocked me at times. One of the first things that I learned from this was an appreciation of my father's commitment to care for his family by going to work in this world everyday - simultaneously wanting to find another way to make a living, attempting his own ventures. It was as if my heart and soul were being crushed in that atmosphere. When I left that job, I inwardly vowed that I would never return to that work or that life, that I would find something that suited me better. The only other time I took a job purely for money, I was miserable, ever-so-grateful that the need was short-lived. My deep desire to raise children became my full-time commitment, then part-time as appropriate. When I did develop a new career, I honored that inner vow, finding work that suited me well so that I could contribute in ways that felt honorable. That job "mistake" became my training ground for understanding who I wasn't, as well as what I valued. What a rich "mistake" that one was.
My first marriage lasted twenty years and because of that union, three wonderful, bright and talented individuals are in the world today. They are three of my closest friends and confidants. Their presence enriches my life in countless ways. For years I felt I had failed as a wife because I needed to move on from that marriage. My bravery and determination to deeply understand where these feelings came from and how to release them, though a long journey, became empowering acts. During the time I was married, I shared a supportive connection with my husband, parented as a team and learned how to divorce with grace and integrity. I learned how to listen to my inner world and honor what was emerging from the depths of my heart and soul. This ability, which required great courage, meant I learned the nuances of walking the inner path. Traveling the inner path is what I teach with great understanding and proficiency today. Wow, did I learn richly about life through that "mistake".
Bring on the mistakes. Mistakes can be heart-breaking, gut-wrenching and downright discombobulating. They are truly the stuff that life is made of, because they are the some of the richest food for self-growth. Hopefully you are not throwing your food away :)
For women readers, here is a link to a blog that I found provocative. I do not agree with Mama Gena that "women suck at making decisions", but some of what she says reflects the conditioning we often experience when we are learning to find our power and voice. And she affirms my decision to allow mistakes! Click here for her message.