True or False? An impassioned, fully committed but tone deaf karaoke performance, is often more entertaining and heart warming than one given by a virtuoso. And by the way, it has been rigorously proven that there isn't enough wine in the world that will persuade me to give one of those. Because I was born with a profound aversion to being an amateur. And not just in public. I am just as self conscious in the soundproofed privacy of my own home. My body inwardly contorts around ego deflating spasms as I witness myself doing anything badly, which is a shame, because being willing to be temporarily bad at something for most of us, is a prerequisite of any learning curve, and of doing almost anything fun. Sadly for me and my guitar, piano, tennis, snowboarding, Italian speaking, tango dancing skills, my stamina for that period is something akin to the lifespan of a Mayfly.
At least it was. These days I'm operating a little closer to the lifespan of a drone ant, with my eye on one day reaching Galapagos Giant Turtle status. In the meantime, I'm resisting the urge to quote everyone who has inspired this grand evolutionary leap, because so much has been so beautifully and powerfully said on the subject of the perfection of being inept. So instead I'm going to put some of my favourites onto Your Page for you to peruse at your leisure. Ira Glass on being a beginner will be on there, but I wouldn't have even started this blog if it wasn't for Brené Brown's viral Ted Talk on vulnerability or her subsequent 99U keynote for creatives, where I first heard her quote Theodore Roosevelt's 'Man In The Arena' speech. And while I wouldn't hold your breath for a Karaoke performance anytime soon, their wisdom has put me on a path to at least being willing to be frustratingly awful in the service of striving for improvement or even excellence in the arena's that call to me.
Because what all these luminaries of imperfection predict and even encourage, is that on the way to doing anything worth anything, even if it's just becoming your true self, you are going to fail, sometimes a little, sometimes spectacularly. And not only will you fail, you will also be judged, shamed and criticised for those failures and growing pains all along the way, not only by yourself, but by others, who for their own reasons will find your inadequacies to be audaciously unacceptable. Shaming criticism of our blundering attempts on the way to proficiency always asks 'How dare you?' 'How dare you need to crawl in order to walk?' 'How dare you present this inadequacy and ask for our time, attention or most unforgivable of all, our money?' There's no way around being on the receiving end of this kind of response to vulnerability. And there's no way around the inevitability of failure. But failure and nonconstructive criticism are not the enemy. Only the compulsive avoidance of them are.
And the alternative is a false and seductive friend. The voice that encourages you to do nothing, try nothing, risk nothing, create nothing. To stay in what you already know you can do well and receive consistently positive feedback for. The same false friend who encourages you to perpetuate the belief that you can achieve perfection in private, in order to lower the risks involved in any future exposure. It tells you that there will come a time when you will be able to take that next step risk free, or critic free. Or it tells you to focus with a critical eye on those who are 'in the arena,' failing and getting back up, bloodied and beaten, safe in the knowledge that you will never allow yourself to be on the receiving end of the kind of criticism you're currently directing at your victim. You will never risk that kind of exposure. You will keep yourself safe.
Ugh that word; safe. It sounds so benign, and yet in the wrong hands or for the wrong reasons, it can be the death knell of a meaningful life. It becomes the shadow response of a fragile self, unable to receive or tolerate criticism or rejection. Or of a belief in an unforgiving, scarcity driven universe that threatens to punish you if you make one false move. This same mentality denies the necessity of learning curves. It denies the perfection of mistakes, processes of elimination on the way to the right answer, or the perfection of doing it 'wrong' in order to do it 'right'. Much like the perfection of the antagonist I mentioned in my previous postcard on forgiveness , as the kind of teacher that repels you in the right direction, such is the purpose of all of the ways we fail on the way to any kind of meaningful success, or the discovery of a personal truth.
So here are a couple of antidotes for the fear that inevitably arises whenever I'm about to go into any new uncharted territory, or even frankly, when simply embarking on a new day. First and foremost, the most counterintuitive but powerful piece of wisdom I have at my disposal is this; never under any circumstances must I try to go into the new territory or the new day alone. Any success I have, is only and always the result of the cumulative wisdom and support I bring with me. In and of myself I am nothing. Connected to my faith and the wisdom , support and love of others, I can go as far as I want or need to go.
The second and just as essential antidote is a willingness to accept the truth, that no matter what I achieve or learn, I will always be a work in progress. I will always be getting something 'wrong', and I will always be on some kind of learning curve whether I think I am or not. To tell myself that I can avoid the risk of failure, mistakes or making a fool of myself in the process is at best delusional, because as a human being, I am essentially in the process of doing that all day every day. The only true graduation is death (and even then). The reality of beginners mind, whether we choose to acknowledge it as the mind's natural state or not, does not diminish with age or experience. In fact, wisdom and experience appear only to make us more comfortable with the reality that we know and understand almost nothing. Wisdom knows how little we know. Experience lets us know that we're safe anyway. And surely that's the only real sense of safety there is. Because life supports us every day as we walk through it with enormous and limitless levels of ignorance, creating daily and hourly 'mistakes' and 'missteps'. And yet we're ok anyway. One way or another, even when we're suffering or in the dark (aka without knowledge), we're ok.
And I can't resist it, I'm ending on a quote. Because I can't think of a better way to say that it's impossible to screw up, that we are inept by the very nature of our being human, so we might as well take that leap of faith and flail around in the air, because it's our belief that we're on solid ground that's creating all the insecurity, not the jumping. We already jumped just by agreeing to be alive. So here's the infinitely more eloquent and memorable quote for you to take with you into your next act of bravery, where I will be with you, if only in spirit.
"The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground." Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Natalie Peatfield is a British Writer commenting on current topics with humor, heart and a fresh, mindful perspective. You can find more of her writing at her blog Travelling Light - www.nataliepeatfield.com