I’ve had the opportunity to plant my feet on this Earth for twenty-something years now, and while I still feel ages away from truly being an “adult,” I can quickly point to one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years, which is that despite our best efforts, there are times when things inevitably go wrong.
Sometimes, I fail. And that is perfectly fine.
When things go awry, people often have a tendency of looking desperately for something or someone to blame. After a failure, surely, I can find some problem along the line where things took a turn for the worst and I could’ve fixed things if I tried hard enough.
But blame isn’t important. Acceptance is.
Pressure comes our way from every angle imaginable – at work, at school, in our families, in our romantic relationships, in our friend circles, but sometimes the worst pressure we face comes directly from ourselves and this crazy notion that so many people have that they have to do things right and that everything that you take on can be done “right.” (Spoiler alert: it can’t.)
Growing up, I tried to maintain this façade of willful independence married with boundless capability. If there was something that needed to be done and it needed someone to do it, I was your gal. Even if I didn’t know how, I could figure it out somehow (usually Google – thanks, guys!).
Even now, I like to joke to my friends that I’d like to somehow incorporate “expert at Googling things” into my resume because I’ve been able to teach myself countless skills by just reading about them on the internet. I’m an information-holic, and I don’t think that will ever change.
Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a super cool place, and I’ve been able to expand my skills from just reading about things and practicing, but my overconfidence in my ability to do things right as long as I just try hard enough has not always benefitted me.
I took on one project. And then two. And then twenty. I found myself in a place of perpetual stress.
“It’s okay,” I typically assured myself. “I’ll figure this out eventually.”
Often, I did. At four in the morning when I had to be awake in three hours to get ready for class. Or super late at the office when I hadn’t actually eaten anything all day because I was too busy trying to figure something out.
For the longest time, it was unacceptable to me to admit that I wasn’t superwoman – to realize that it couldn’t be done the way I wanted, to ask for help, or even (gasp!) to relinquish something I had taken on to more capable hands.
I can’t remember when the “switch” happened precisely. Maybe it was from burnout in grad school, or maybe it was when I found myself huddling in a coworker’s cubicle, bawling because I just couldn’t finish everything in time by myself. But when it happened, it was scary and liberating at the same time.
“What can I help you with?” was such a revolutionary question to me.
The thought that someone could help me with something I thought I was supposed to handle by myself was very strange. I feel like resistance came first – insistence that I’m just exaggerating, that I’ll be fine, I could do it – but whoever it was, thank you for pushing back (as stubborn as I am) and forcibly taking some responsibilities from me.
More importantly than reducing my stress level, I feel like this change opened up my eyes to the people around me.
The people at my school and in my workplace were so, incredibly talented, and I started looking at their accomplishments rather than worrying about my own.
One coworker had an insane creative eye and made stunning visual designs. Another was amazingly efficient at organizing things so they took only a fraction of the time to complete. One classmate was so attentive to detail that she picked up on something in an assignment that no one else did. Another put together such fun and thoughtful social gatherings that helped us survive the madness of school with our sanity intact.
These people were always there – but I felt so embarrassed to suddenly discover everything they’d already mastered and how genuinely kickass my friends and colleagues were.
You don’t have to be a superhero. You can’t be a superhero (unless you’re a cosplayer, in which case – by all means, be a superhero)!
When you realize that you don’t have to take everything on, that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that you can say no, that you can ask for help, and that you can back away from something entirely if it’s just not working out – that’s the moment when you start realizing the people around you are even more talented than you’d realized and can make something even better happen than you’d imagined.
So if you’re in need of an affirmation, let me give it to you:
It’s okay to admit you can’t do something.
It’s okay to enlist the help of the people around you.
It’s okay if it doesn’t go as planned.
It’s okay if you didn’t do it yourself.
The thinner we stretch ourselves, the more fragile we become.
Own your ambitions and your skills, but also recognize that there are people around you who can – and want to – help you. Don’t shy away from admitting when you’ve failed or being up front about a mistake because there is always a way to remedy it or move on.
Admitting these things doesn’t make you a failure. If anything, it gives you credibility – for owning your actions and knowing yourself well enough to know when you just can’t do something. It exposes the flaws and lets you see how something that seemed unsurmountable can be transformed, with the help of others, into something so much better.
Everyone fails at something, but failing opens up new doors just as it closes some.
Now that I think about it – failing is kind of awesome.