I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature. School was the ideal distraction for me as a kid: I could dive into it completely and dedicate myself to learning all the rules, reading all the books, getting the highest scores on tests, etc. Unsurprisingly, math was my favorite subject. (Or maybe surprisingly, since math is always getting a bad rap and I am, after all, A GIRL. GASP!) There’s more than one way to arrive at an answer in mathematics, but ultimately there’s only one correct answer (or set of correct answers). There’s something comforting and definitive about math that the other subjects lack, and math doesn’t even have to sacrifice any creativity for it.
Direct, decisive, but creative. In a nutshell, what I aspire to be.
But math doesn’t stop there. Because you have to show all your work (or, at least, we did when I was in school; I don’t know how the state of calculator use has advanced), you can always go back and find your mistake. Find your mistake, fix it, recalculate and we’re back in business! If only determining and remedying our mistakes in the rest of life were so easy.
I was called “wise,” tonight. It’s not the first time I’ve been described that way, but frankly I don’t think I possess any special skills or insight others lack. Truthfully, if I’m wise it’s because I make a lot of mistakes. I make mistakes, I reflect on them, and I try to make different and/or better choices the next time. It seems simple because it is, this is how we learn. But as I grow older I am honestly floored by how many supposed “adults” I’ve met that are afraid to make mistakes or, worse yet, learn from them! Even my closest friends warn me against taking risks. I know they mean well, I know they don’t want to see me hurt, but the size of the reward is generally directly proportional to the size of the risk. You dream big? You’ll have to take big risks to get it.
So let me propose that the idea that mistakes are in any way, shape or form “bad” is completely ludicrous. Mistakes are a blessing. For one, we’re not actually required to be perfect, even if we insist on putting that pressure on ourselves. (I’m utterly convinced perfect would be boring anyway. The Twilight Zone fans out there know what I’m talking about.) More importantly, mistakes open the door for new knowledge and insight. Some of history’s best inventions began as “mistakes.”
If mistakes are inherently good things (which seems oxymoronic to say, I know), the best mistakes are the one you learn the most from. Which, unfortunately, often correlates with the size of the mistake… There have been times in my life where getting my heartbroken, saying the wrong thing to the new boss, utterly embarrassing myself, etc.–the things that sting so damn much in the moment–where the best things that could’ve happened to me.
Relationship mistakes are perhaps the most interesting because we don’t learn what’s necessary “right” or “wrong,” we learn about ourselves. We learn who we are, how we love, how we cope, what we want, want we can give and what we’re willing to give. And those are some of the most important things to know about oneself. So was dating my coworker dumb? Sure. Did dating someone twice my age present more challenges than I anticipated? Absolutely. Will co-dependency gnaw at your sense of self like a hungry rat? Of course. But I don’t regret a single one of these mistakes. Perhaps I wish I’d know better sooner, but I know better now. And that’s what matters.
So what exactly have I learned through my various relationship follies? Well, it sounds cliche, but I’ve certainly learned that the most important relationship I have is with myself and that self-care is not optional or self-indulgent, it’s a matter of survival. I’ve learned that while relating is important, I never want to be the most important or *biggest* thing in someone’s life or vise versa. I’ve learned that relationships are supposed to enhance your life, not become your life, not engulf your life. I’ve learned that you don’t give to get, and, at the same time, if you’re consistently giving and not getting anything in return, it’s time to move on. Often the act of giving gives back to ourselves, but if that’s not happening there’s a problem. I’ve learned that jealousy is an extremely silly emotion that usually arises from not speaking your peace. I’ve learned to speak up. I’ve learned that sex is better when you’re loud.
I’ve learned that Love is not always enough.
I’ve learned that while I cannot control the actions or reactions of others, I can make informed choices and be in control of my own emotions and reactions, which is actually quite a lot. I’ve learned that I don’t have to catch what others are throwing at me. I’ve learned that making and keeping boundaries is hard work, but well worth the effort. I’ve learned that love is meant to be shared–inclusive, not exclusive. I’ve learned that 99% of the time it’s not personal. I’ve learned to trust the person who shows me they love me without saying it, over the person who says it without showing it. I’ve learned that my heart will heal and grow back, and being bitter just keeps the wounds from healing. I’ve learned that if I love myself first, I have more to give others as a result. I’ve learned that dating co-workers is about as good an idea as living with friends (i.e. not very). I’ve learned some people will take as much as you let them. I’ve learned that you are not obligated to anyone, even if they love you. I’ve learned that communication is crucial. I’ve learned that genuine love means letting go, even when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do.
I’ve learned that there’s more than one right way to Love.
This is an incomplete list, by far, and I know I still have much to learn. The things I’ve learned are not necessarily universal truths, though some might be. They’re what’s true for me, what I want in and out of my life. I think that’s why there are so many mistakes we have to make for ourselves. Not because we’re stubborn and won’t listen, but because we’re all unique people, so we’ll learn different things through our mistakes. We’ll learn what we value, what we love, and what hurts the deepest.
As long as you’re willing to take a risk, the rest will follow.
Starin’ down the stars
Jealous of the moon
You wish you could fly
Just being where you are
There’s nothin’ you can do
If you’re too scared to try…