I’m in the midst of a baking day. Steve’s Aunt asked me to bake two different kinds of cookies to mail to her nephew out of state. I was happy to participate in producing a care package. I like caring, even if I don’t know the person. The first recipe was written out on an index card with rather sketchy instructions. For instance, nowhere did it suggest how long to cook them! These are rolled and filled cookies. I’ve never attempted anything like that before in my life, nor have I witnessed anyone else’s attempt, nor had I seen a representation of the final product. But for some reason, I decided to plow ahead and do my best using my intuition. Only after they were out of the oven did I look around online for images. I wasn’t too far off, I guess, but I know I’d make some changes next time. “But what have you learned, Dorothy?”
I’ve learned that this kind of thing teaches me a lot about myself. There was one point in the procedure when my brain did actually shoot off an almost audible “F*** this!” and I felt like quitting. I have a perfectionist streak in me that easily loses patience. I suppose that things should go smoothly if I’m doing them right. When things stop going smoothly, I’m in danger of failing, and this is where the perfectionist wants to bail. I often go to this conclusion even before I’ve begun a job. I see this tendency dangling from various branches in my family tree. But I figure that if I continue to live this way, I am going to eliminate a lot of experiences prematurely and end up not doing much with the time I have left. So I might as well just roll up my sleeves and dive in.
I think we live in a culture of “professionalism” and “experts” that contributes to this kind of self-elimination. How often are we told that we can’t do something because we’re not qualified, we don’t have the skills, we don’t have the right background, or we don’t have the resources and we simply give up on the idea? Only a charlatan would continue to try to do something he hasn’t been trained for! But how do you get experience? By trying something you’ve never done! We get caught in the Catch-22 all the time, beginning as children, probably now more than ever. If you haven’t had the 2-yr-old class on foreign languages, you’re not going to get into the right pre-school, and if you don’t get into the right pre-school…(usw)…you won’t get into Harvard! Gone are the days when a self-taught person could go from a log cabin to the White House. Now we think we’re not qualified to make improvements in our lives, in our communities, in our government, in our international relations, and we can’t solve global problems. Well, maybe we actually can but we’ve eliminated the possibility prematurely because the feeling that things aren’t going smoothly is tempting us to bail before we fail. If you’re going to bail, why not fail first so that you have an experience to learn from? Or why not fail frequently and refuse to bail?
My kids are in their 20s now. I hope they have the courage to fail many times. I hope they don’t bail before they try something that interests them. I hope I still have some of that left in my future as well.