As the years go by, and seem to flow into one another, remembering childhood experiences becomes more and more difficult. Elementary school, for example, is a blur; high school and all its trials and triumphs is also somewhat murky in my memory. I do recall, however, being a pretty confident kid. That, is, however, until about age 17 or 18 when, for some reason, my certainty in myself began to dwindle.
As I write this article, I am patiently waiting for baby’s arrival (author’s note: she arrived!) While my last checkup indicated that everything was fine, thoughts such as: The challenges that she will face, the talents that she will possess, the experiences which will make her smile, and those that will cause her to cry come to mind. While I would like to plan her life, I’ve learned, given that it’s her due date and she still hasn’t made her debut, that it may not be productive to micro-manage a child.
Something which concerns me, however, about the world in which my child has been born, is its obsession with perfection. When the prestigious accounting firm PWC mistakenly announced the wrong motion picture for the winning Academy Award, the media went chaotic. When an expert’s children innocently entered his study as he was being interviewed on live TV, it was as though kids interrupting their parents was a novelty. Maybe it’s human nature to be intrigued by the irony that even the best and the brightest have their awkward moments. It’s also human nature to make mistakes. Sometimes, mistakes can be fatal. While some people, (i.e. teenage boys who enlist in the army) may not, yet, possesses the fear instinct, others refuse to try anything because the thought of failure is greater than the small chance of success.
One of the things which impressed me about my husband, Amichay, was his confidence in himself. This self-assurance wasn’t arrogance, rather, an acceptance of himself – his strengths and his weaknesses. Often, when I was alone in my apartment, I would fret over whether I, with all my faults, could possibly make a good wife for this, “perfect” guy. My wise friend Layah Shagalow pointed out that it’s not perfect people who marry, rather, people who are perfect for each other. Amichay has taught me, and teaches me every day, to focus on my positive qualities. I have come to learn that Amichay, like me, isn’t perfect. But we do try, every day to be better than we were the day before.
I am not sure what triggered my lack of confidence in myself at the tender age of 18. Maybe it was the comment of an inconsiderate teacher, a snooty friend, or being mathematically challenged. Although I have, with G-d’s help, achieved many milestones, I still often focus on my failures rather than my accomplishments. Or maybe it’s because I am afraid that a small mistake, such as that of PWC’s, will be blown way out of proportion by those around me.
Or, by yours truly.
Some time ago, we had Shabbat dinner with friends. One of the couples had a small child who was just learning how to walk. His determination at this task was endearing and humbling. At a certain point in the evening, the child stood up off the floor and began to tread. He took several steps and the adults in the room held their breath. The child, with trepidation, walked for several seconds which felt to us, and probably to him as well, an eternity. Finally, he gave into gravity and stumbled to the ground. All of the adults clapped their hands for this sweet little boy who smiled triumphantly.
As we cheered for the little guy, it occurred to me that we only yelled out cries of “yay” when he fell.
When we fall/when we fail, does anyone clap for us? Is a parking ticket inscribed with “Congratulations! You obviously didn’t see the NO PARKING ANYTIME SIGN! No problem! Have a great day! Love, the Police!” When we make a costly mistake at work does our boss award us with the employee of the month title? When our spouse tramples our dignity, do we give them a hug and make their favorite dinner? When we mess up, is the reaction we expect similar to the one which we had towards the toddler on that Friday night?
Probably not. Because if so, insurance companies of all kinds would be broke.
But what if we could learn to treat failure as an experience from which to grow and not wither?
A mistake which happens out of carelessness and flippancy is a problem. But I hope that, if we fail, despite our best, best efforts and intentions, we are surrounded by a cheering squad who causes us to smile proudly as we sit on the ground and think of a new and better way to stand up and walk again.
As I sit here, I hope that her world will be tolerant of mistakes.