“Nobody’s perfect, Dad!” My highly engaged and enthusiastic 8 year old daughter, with hands on her hips, would look right in my face and remind me of that. She was poised and ready to recite Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana’s song, “Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days.” We had been in the midst of cleaning and picking up the house and I had provided some, at least in my mind, important feedback on what was lacking in our effort. I fully admit that my obsession with the details and doing things well often spills over reasonable limits. My kids have been exceedingly helpful in providing feedback in this area. I can’t help but be reminded of my own experience with my dad too. Ever the engineer, he was passionate about “planning ahead” and “giving attention to detail.” It would often be punctuated with commentary and head shaking analysis of the work done by my sister and I. He had great intentions but there were times where it landed poorly. I do credit him with inspiring me to work hard and pursue perfection.
I have been incredibly blessed to have had two dads. My bonus dad, my step-father entered my life when I was 12 years old. He was the polar opposite. He definitely modeled working hard but he placed a high value on people, empathy and mercy. He would echo my youngest daughter’s reminder that everyone needs some grace and consideration. We are all guilty of miss steps, mistakes and mess-ups. He would remind us how people are the most important thing and we need to live, love and laugh. As we approach Father’s Day in the US this coming weekend, I am reminded of how incredible both of these men were in my life and how they helped shape who I am today. They taught me a lot, and I miss them both.
Speaking about people and perfection, I learned that I’m people too and I’m not perfect. I know, shocking! It’s true. It took me a while to come to terms with that. We often set ambitious goals for ourselves or others, but we also need to remember that it is okay to miss the mark too. We are human after all. We will fail, slip and we will fall. The important part is what we do when that occurs. Do we acknowledge it, learn from it and pick ourselves back up, or do we lean into that disappointment and onboard guilt to punish ourselves? Guilt is a very poor fuel for motivation and improvement. It takes more than it gives. It erodes confidence and calcifies failure into a debilitating burden.
I love how we talk about science and professions as “practices”. It is a powerful reminder that our performance is incremental. We habitually and regularly keep trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but forever learning and improving. Living is a practice too! We keep trying. Mistakes occur, but we apply our learning and steadily nudge ourselves closer to the event horizon of proficiency.
Now, if you, like me, have suffered the crushing blow of self-inflicted guilt, it’s time to lose that ailment. Give yourself a dose of mercy. Put some confidence in your fuel tank and drive. The road ahead is full of practice, potholes and possibilities! Keep driving. Keep learning. And if you slip or falter, remind yourself, as my youngest daughter would say, “Nobody’s perfect!”