I never learned how to fail. I was taught to believe that perfection was valued and equated to success.
For well over two-thirds of my life, I let this belief hold me back. I believed, “If I can’t be perfect, then I’m not going to try.”
I never did sports because even though I wasn’t “bad,” I wasn’t the best. I never tried out for things unless I was sure I would make it, or win, or be on top. I wouldn’t push through things that I found difficult. I would be easily discouraged and lose any aspiration I had.
In 2013, I received golf lessons as a Christmas present (the package even included a complimentary day on the course with my instructor at the end of my lessons). I completed my lessons, tried to go to the driving range, but because I didn’t get it right away, I stopped doing it.
I had no drive to practice, no motivation to persevere, no desire to try again or to improve. I never learned how to pick myself up when I was down because I never put myself in situations where I could be “down.”
Even when I wasn’t perfect, I learned how to hide it. I remember working on projects in elementary school and making a “mistake”: a blob of paint would fall where it shouldn’t have, or my letters weren’t straight enough. I would turn those mistakes into something that looked like I did it on purpose: that blob became a bush and I created a whole nature scene around it. Or, I’d change the rest of the letters so that crooked was the “look” I was going for. I was happy as long as everything looked perfect.
I burnt myself out trying to become the elusive “perfect teacher.” I had a reputation for coming in early and staying late, often being the one to set or turn off the school alarms. I tried to mark every assignment, give meaningful feedback on every activity, have repeated conferences with my students, connect with parents on different platforms, hold regular school-based team meetings, run fundraisers, do extra-curricular activities, and, and, and--all perfectly!
Now here I am: an entrepreneur trying to be the perfect entrepreneur and being told time and time again that there’s no such thing.
Everyday I try, fail and put myself out there. I reflect on those experiences and I adapt, move forward, or change tactics. I am a living build-measure-learn cycle.
I’m generating new ideas. I’m testing theories. I’m iterating. I’m crashing. I’m AHA-ing.
This experience—this acceptance of and engagement in constant imperfection—has been far more rewarding than any letter grade, or checkmark, or gold star. I know I’m learning. I know I’m growing. I’ve seen how trying again can lead to different and often better ideas. My “mistakes” don’t carry the same negative weight when they end up opening exciting new avenues.
This value of process is something I’m (still) learning in my late 20s. And it’s been such a steep learning curve for me because I’m fighting against my indoctrinated belief of perfection. Every day I need to unlearn that notion and actively replace it with, “Value the Process.” My wish is that no other child needs to struggle with unlearning perfection. That they don’t seek validation from others or strive for impossible measures, but rather that they learn the importance of the learning process, and even find joy in it. So now, I’m playing my part in realizing that dream. Jack and I are developing an edtech platform celebrates this learning process and instills the belief that
To this day, I still haven’t done that complimentary course lesson. If Sheilla Cowan is reading this: will you still take me?
P.S. #2 //
I put myself in golf lessons again this past summer, and bought my own clubs. So if you’re patient with me and not going to push me to be perfect, let’s go golfing sometime!