My undyingly dedicated readers (hello mom, dad, big sis in Israel … love you all), might have noticed that last week I spoke about the seventh item on my Cap and Gown List even though last week was week six of my column. Oops.
Imperfection is inevitable. While it might be nice to dream of a world with no accidents, no wrong decisions and excellence as the norm, reality is far less tidy
I am imperfect. I’m fallible. Someone call The New York Times, have I got a scoop for you! Okay, I jest, but I make mistakes. For every decision I made, there was an alternate path to take, and sometimes that alternative would have been better. I get bad grades, forget to turn in homework and still owe my aunt that phone call. I hurt my friends and I disappoint my family, and I disappoint myself.
Don’t stop reading. This is not going to turn into a one-woman pity party, this is about accountability. Accountability is one of those things you always want someone else to have. This week, it’s my turn. I sat in one of my classes the other day listening to my professor remind us all that seeing our mistakes and learning from them were just an office hours visit away. Then I listened to the girl behind me say, “Like I’ll ever visit her office … she can keep my stupid ‘D’.”
That started me thinking. I should be going to “office hours” (literally and metaphorically). I should be admitting to my mistakes and allowing myself to see where improvements can be made. I go through the motions everyday hoping that somewhere along the way I’ll learn something, grow and be better the next time.
The only way to truly open myself up to that learning, incidentally, is to open myself up to criticism and other people who point out my misjudgments or mistakes. The caveat to this, of course, is that there are very few times where there is an absolute right or wrong, and someone not literally in my skin cannot truly understand where the decision came from in the first place. But the counter to that caveat, is that I can make a decision I think is right, have someone point out it’s potential negatives, and then resolve to look at it from a new, broader perspective the next time.
My mother always says that in life you’re either progressing or regressing, and that no one truly stays stationary. She’s right. So I vowed to leave myself open for an entire 24 hours to the opinions of other people, solely. I didn’t argue, defend or try to explain my actions; I simply listened. What I found: we all think we know what’s going on better than the next guy. We all see situations and can’t help but to insert our “that’s not how I would do it,” even if we do so with only the purest of intention.
When my friend recently told me that perhaps while I was well intentioned in trying to help another friend, she needed to make mistakes and learn from them herself. She knew I had only our friend’s best interest at heart, but that didn’t mean what I did was necessarily the best choice. They say hindsight is 20-20, but it really only becomes perfect vision if I include perspectives other than my own. That’s where meaningful learning can come from. Making a mistake can be an educational experience, but only if you analyze it well enough to make sure you don’t repeat it.
I still think the world would be a little nicer if we didn’t all go around assuming the way we see something is the right way all the time. I have learned, though, that it can only enhance my perception of a situation to try and see it from all angles and not immediately jump to defending my actions. When mistakes are made, I can apologize and move on, vowing to do a little better the next time. As long as I do that, I’ve learned and grown. Even if the apology falls on deaf ears, or if those who criticize are doing it for the worst possible motives, I can still benefit from the experience of just listening.
EMILY KAPLAN is spending Thanksgiving with 11 of her closest relatives in one house for six nights, and can’t wait. If you think this sounds like a bad reality show pitch or want to tell her about your wacky family Thanksgiving plans, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.