Kristin Armstrong on Making Mistakes
Kristin Armstrong Essay
Our Unique Common Denominator
I cannot tell you how many people I talk to who say, “Oh, I can’t do that; I’m not creative. I can’t make things.” I always contest this opinion. As humans we were created to be creative. We all make things.
I bake, I cook, I knit, I paint, I write. I make breakfast. I make love. I make a house a home. I make time. I make an effort. I make the bed. I make memories. I have birthed three babies and seven books. I pack lunches and suitcases. I arrange flowers and schedules. I take photographs, and I take my time. I make plans and reservations. I make changes. I make my grandmother’s cinnamon bread. I make promises and I make amends.
THIS PHILOSOPHY DOES NOT YIELD HIGHER LEVELS OF PERFORMANCE AT WORK, OR DEEPER INTIMACY AND FULFILLMENT IN RELATIONSHIPS. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BETTER PARENT. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.
When I think about it, I make lots of things. And so do you.
I tried to think of the most important thing I make, and I came to the obvious things first like love and babies and a nest for all of that. But the longer I thought about it, I came to an interesting conclusion. The most important thing I make these days is something that might sound odd to your ears at first. It did to mine.
I make mistakes.
For a recovering perfectionist, this is a hot damn and hallelujah statement. I spent years of my younger life trying to avoid making mistakes, or minimizing or rationalizing the mistakes I made. This philosophy does not yield higher levels of performance at work, or deeper intimacy and fulfillment in relationships. It does not make you a better parent. It does not make your dreams come true. It does not make you more capable or responsible. It does not protect you from heartbreak, foolish shenanigans (I love that word), disappointments, or bumpy detours off the paved road of life.
Avoiding making mistakes keeps us from making our best life. It keeps us stalled and stunted. It eats away at our courage. It advocates for thinking small in the name of reducing risk. It makes us self-conscious and trumps our try. It causes us to keep quiet when we should speak up. It weakens our parenting by inhibiting the connection forged by authenticity. It short-circuits the path to real love, which requires the vulnerability of putting ourselves out there, opening up and speaking from the heart. We cannot be all in, fully immersed in the process of life, if we are so concerned with the success of the outcome. Making mistakes frees us from all that. We can try new things if we don’t care how we look or how we perform. We can really love people, because if our mistakes are okay then by proxy and by golly theirs are okay, too. When the pressure of perfection is off the table, it’s amazing how people and life open up.
We can invite people over for dinner when the house is messy and the cuisine is subpar. We can share our weaknesses and tender spots and allow someone to love and protect them, rather than cultivating an edge around them. We can sit with our kids in the midst of a rough patch and simply love them, without always having to fix or instruct. We can accept our imperfect partners as the perfect catalyst for our mutual transformation. We can screw up without saying screw this. We can roll up our sleeves and do the work and know that our effort is valuable and worthy, regardless of how it’s received or what it garners. We can get more comfortable with discomfort, step beyond the limits of what we already know we can do well and venture bravely into the mist of uncertainty.
Read more from the Makers + Industry Issue | July 2016