You know those things that seemed terrifying in the moment? Then you grow up and you go through way more terrifying things and all of a sudden you find your current self laughing at your old self for thinking something so small was so scary?
I had one of those moments that I remember vividly. It was the last day of second grade and some of the older kids on the bus were explaining to me that once we got to third grade, we weren’t allowed to use erasable pens anymore. This was really freaking me out.
How had I taken such a luxury for granted? At least up until now I could erase my mistakes and no one would ever know that I had messed up. Now, these way older/wiser kids on the bus were saying that my mistakes would be on paper forever and I would have to cross them out and everyone would know that I messed up. And even worse, how often I messed up.
Little did I know, lots of people had made this transition before me. They knew what was up. I soon learned that any cross out could easily be turned into a heart, or a smiley face, or some other creative little pre-emoji emoji.
Mistakes were just an excuse to be creative in what we turned the mistake into. They were something we moved on from.
And like many before me, it came as quite a surprise to me that there wasn’t an adult version of the kids on the bus to warn me about when life stops being governed by timelines of academic years and semesters. That suddenly, there’s no more rigid system telling me exactly where I am in life, or a cumulative number comparatively telling me how well I’m doing.
For the first time, I have nothing to gauge whether or not I am making an acceptable amount of mistakes. I can’t even tell if my mistakes are the right ones, you know? Whether or not I am, as the teachers used to say, “on the right track.”
And I’m finding that this is an even harder transition than the switch between being graded based on effort to being graded based on actually producing good work.
After some time, my young adult life had started to feel like an endless stream of cross outs. I found myself way past the point of trying to make anything look cutesy, as if I meant to put a butterfly in the spot where I scribbled out so hard I ripped the page.
And I just knew I had to be messing up more than everyone else. Everyone else has it together and it’s just me that’s struggling.
So metaphorically and literally, my solution to this problem was to stop writing entirely. You can’t mess up if you don’t do anything ever. Sound logic.
I couldn’t get hurt if I stopped putting myself out there. I couldn’t fail if I stopped trying. And I couldn’t move forward if I kept making all of my days the same self-berating loop.
But this, this was even worse than cross-outs. This was pure omission of life, and it began to feel like the waste it was.
One of the greatest adventures of life is the sheer, endless continuation of putting yourself out there despite not knowing what will come of it. I would recommend never going through something like this, but for me I knew it was inevitable. And it’s turned out to be my most helpful mistake yet.
Trying and failing is infinitely better than not trying at all. It’s age old advice, but it’s so true.
You won’t realize how much of yourself you lose by hiding. The slow erosion of your personality doesn’t feel alarming at first, but the day will come where you have lived so safely and quietly that you’ll look around and realize no one knows you at all.
Making mistakes helps you weed out the people in your life that don’t deserve to be there. It narrows down career choices, lifestyle choices, and those spur-of-the-moment decisions. You actually gain confidence in yourself by giving yourself more reason to trust your intuition.
So, however you’re messing up in life now, just know, it’s not nearly as bad as not doing anything at all. Give yourself 15 seconds to let that sink in. Just for 15 seconds, decide that you’re not going to stress about how it’s all falling apart, and give yourself credit for trying.
And, if you are living by omission, just know it won’t last forever. Allow yourself to miss the pieces of your personality that feel like they might be gone forever. They’re not gone forever, and you will find that you love those parts of yourself more than ever once you decide to start living again.
One day you will look back at all these mishaps and find that they just look like doodles on a page.