As a child, I strove for perfection. I remember my parents asking me if I wanted to try soccer at age 7. Nope. My friends had been playing for longer + I didn’t want to suck.
I hated being terrible at softball and I made it two season before deciding I wasn’t good enough to play in the in-field.
I only lasted one season in basketball. Although, “bless his heart”, it might have been to spite my father.
When I found volleyball in high school, I hit a plateau + decided to put all my eggs into drama club. OK, sometimes choice is powerful. #noregrets
This “perfectionist” or as Carol Dweck calls it, a “fixed mindset” followed me into my dating life. As a serial dater in my 20s, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how people fell into relationships.
I was AWESOME at first dates. I could manage 3-6 week relationships before I was bored. Or he was. Or we knew we just wanted different things outta life. When I hit the point where my walls of vulnerability would have to come down, a place where I’d have to show myself in some way, I’d jet. I could not overcome the wall.
Carol Dweck offers incredible insight into the power of our beliefs about our mindset.
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success–without effort. They’re wrong. – from Mindsetonline.com
It’s impossible to have thriving relationships from a fixed mindset. Relationships are beautiful, and messy. Love is healing and messy. Growth can be expansive… and messy. I was afraid of the mess. If it didn’t look, feel, show up perfect… No, thank you.
Somewhere along the way (cough cough… can I blame this on my Catholic upbringing?), I had ingrained the message that messy = failure. Failure traveled with shame and shame was a megabig boulder to bear.
I did not want to fail at Love. So I did not want to mess with Love.
But I wanted intimate relationship. So much.
I had to start somewhere. As a first year teacher, I felt grossly under-equipped to manage all the emotional, intellectual, and sometimes very physical needs of the children in my class.
And my inner perfectionist was freaking out because when you have 30 other people in a room, you are bound to fail one of them at some point.
I MADE SO MANY MISTAKES TEACHING FRACTIONS. I bombed the first time I taught it. I underestimated the skills my students actually had and it totally flopped. I remember seeing scrunched up faces. The work they’d turned in had a million erasure marks and almost no one got anything correct.
I had confused them, hard.
I had to go back. I asked for more help from the teachers around me, using strategies they shared that worked. I’m not gonna lie, I found an awesome rap about fractions on the internet. He explained it way better… and rapping, no less.
I went in the next day. I’m sorry. I messed it up. You were confused, I could tell. And your work wasn’t done because it was confusing. Everyone felt terrible. I saw it on your faces and I felt it in my heart. It hurt. Can I try that again?
“People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Sure they’re happy if they’re brainy or talented, but that’s just the starting point. They understand that no one has ever accomplished great things–not Mozart, Dawrin, or Michael Jordan–without years of passionate practice or learning.” from Mindsetonline.com
Kids are powerful examples of beings that live in their hearts and they were willing to allow me to try again. They were willing to try again with each other. They were willing to try with themselves.
They taught me.
Here’s what I learned: I’m a messy learner. I have 18 left feet on the dance floor. I’m probably afraid of the ball no matter what sport it is. And when I teach something, it happens differently in my head that first time. I often fail. And not quietly. Big. Chaos erupts. Those first years teacher were really really messy.
So we started using it in our community (our community = our classroom).
“Can you try that again?”
I did. They did. We did.
One of the bridges back to Love and the bridge back Trust–both corner stones for intimacy– is asking to try again. It’s sometimes pretty messy in there. We might not love the mess, but it doesn’t take away from the Love or the Healing or the Compassion. This is a tool to step back in the ring, as Brene Brown calls it.
“Can I try that again?”
And it might take you the 7th time, or the 1007th before you get to where you wanted to be.
This is the number one tool that allowed me to invite vulnerability into romantic relationships. It was essential. I would revert to my amazing listener dater + then I’d realize I was trying to hide. I’d go quiet for a few days while I worked out my feelings about something. Or the fiery temper I work hard to ground would flair up.
I wanted intimacy in my romantic life more than I wanted to keep hiding. LET ME NOT LIE TO YOU! I don’t always find this easy. When Shadow self appears, I have to use all my practices to come back to my body. I have to rely on courage that I’ve stored up.
Then I practice showing up.
“Can I try that again?”
And I do it differently. I say it differently than the first time. I ask a question to better understand.
It’s equal parts freeing as it is work as it is compassion as it takes showing up.
We are not perfect. Love is not perfect.
To the courage it takes to try again,
P.S. This is not a reason “work your feelings out (another Brene Brown Best Phrase)” on your partner or your boss or the children in your classroom. You have to own your feelings, your experience, and your reactions. This is a tool to use to step out of your comfort zone, to create deeper intimacy, to practice forgiving yourself, and growing into the Love you’re craving in your life.