Mistakes. All of us make ’em, none of us like ’em.
Whether it’s pronouncing almond like almond or spilling a crapton of oil into our precious oceans, let’s face it. F*cking up can be anything from harsh to hilarious.
And human. So very human.
So why can we end up so afraid of it?
Making mistakes is hardly ever a good feeling. I mean, tell me if this sounds familiar — that hot flush of embarrassment, that brace for the jokes, that “oh sh*t” moment of horror.
Think back to grade school. Do you remember how you felt when you gave a wrong answer, when you stepped out of line? We all knew what it meant if we got back a paper that looked like this.
I don’t know about you, but for a lot of my life, I played something I like to call “f*ck up keep away.” What that means? I was terrified of being wrong… so I never took any risks. Even when I had the right answer, I was too scared to raise my hand in class, because what if 2 + 2 wasn’t 4 anymore? What if they changed math yesterday and no one told me?!
I was afraid to put myself out there because I didn’t want to be rejected or say something wrong. No lie, I didn’t even use a piece of paper if it had a wrinkle on it.
I know now that I’m far from the only one who’s got a perfectionism problem. It makes sense. Making mistakes is tough. You don’t want to look stupid, you’re afraid of being laughed at, and what if your mistake hurt someone?
But refusing to admit when we’re wrong, or let ourselves be wrong, isn’t really freeing. It holds us back. We don’t try new stuff. We don’t grow.
I’ve come a long way since then, though. I don’t love making mistakes, but I’ve learned to embrace them, to laugh at myself, and to be better without being too harsh on myself.
Why? Well, I actually spent a lot of my life realizing that I was dead wrong. Let me tell you a story…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I was 11 years old, and I knew how the world was going to end.
I knew that 3×3=9 and that dinos walked the Earth alongside Adam and Eve. I knew that homosexuality was unnatural and that blue is a primary color. I knew that abortion was genocide and that plants did photosynthesis. I had Answers.
You guessed it: I was raised a fundamentalist Christian in a tight-knit community. And obviously, a real party to be around!
Okay, I should give you some context. The world of Evangelical Christianity that I grew up in? We’re not big on being told we’re wrong. We’ve got our right answers — how to live, why life exists, who to worship — and just try and change our minds.
We take “apologetics” classes to learn how to handle ourselves in debates against crotchety atheists. We take to streets and malls and beaches to convince other people to see the light. We live our lives by words straight from God’s mouth.
When Trump was elected, we took a page from Drake’s book and shrugged, God’s plan. Stories from the #ChurchToo movement are all too common: when pastors are charged with sexually assaulting teens, churches (sometimes literally) applaud the accused and punish the survivors.
Should I even mention the doomsday predictions? 😉
It was in this bubble of Truthiest Truth that I grew up. It was as if all our right answers were walls that kept reality out. We were convinced we had things figured out, because God told us straight up. And we built our lives on it.
So when I started to get too curious for my own good in high school?
Long story short, by the end of high school, my poor beloved faith was unraveled as a ball of yarn in a room with a dozen kittens. So many of the ideas that I’d always taken to be capital T The Truth suddenly looked painfully counterfeit against the light.
Watching my worldview fall like a house of cards was traumatic, and I suffered with flashbacks, cognitive dissonance attacks, anxiety, and a whole lotta what-now-even? in the years after as I rebuilt my mindset and myself. It was tougher still to face down the truth that I’d hurt people by acting on what I believed.
- I’d made fun of trans kids at the lunch table, and now I realized I was queer. #ohhowtheturntables
- I’d blamed myself for my mental illness, and now I understood it was never my fault.
- I’d shamed girls for dating and dressing and being confidently themselves, and now I was starting to think they were the ones who were free.
For a kid who was already anal about creases in her looseleaf, exiting a group of people who were so sure about their right answers that they tried to convert everyone they knew to The Light was world-shaking. It was humbling. It was awkward.
And it was also fundamentally freeing. Here’s why:
1. Hurting someone when you were wrong only makes you human, it’s refusing to take responsibility that makes you a bad person
This is still one of the toughest things to face about my old lifestyle, but I’m also grateful for it. Losing my faith actually made me a more moral person.
It’s like that “I’m sorry for what I said when I was drunk” thing, except you were drunk for your whole life and also you were drunk on Jesus juice.
Looking back on What I Did When I Was Jesus Drunk, I had a lot to account for. And that was not easy. I looked down on those Catholic idolaters and unnatural trans kids and (shiver) Harry Potter lovers in grade 4. I turned up my nose at mirrors and tank tops so I wasn’t like those girls. I was that person that left random Jack Chick tracts in bathrooms.
It wasn’t a great look.
But that’s the thing about mistakes: if we refuse to admit we were wrong, we just do more harm. We deny the people we hurt closure or justice. We’re saying we’re too good to apologize.
For a long time, I was terrified that my mistakes meant I was a bad person. I kept them a secret, dreading that people would know what I had done.
It took a lot of healing to eventually realize this. Acting on your sincere beliefs doesn’t make you a bad person. Refusing to acknowledge that your actions hurt people does.
Living out what you believe is integrity and authenticity. If you’ve hurt people without meaning to, you were blind. All we can do in life is follow our instincts and common sense as best we can and admit when we’ve been wrong.
And I had to own up to that. I had to choose compassion and humility over my own perfectionism. I still feel remorse at what I did when I was Evangelical, but I’m also a little grateful for the reminder that we’re all only human. What matters is owning up and doing better.
2. Making mistakes teaches us to laugh at ourselves
Like you might expect, questioning and losing my faith knocks you down quite a few healthy pegs. And remembering not to take life too seriously? Trust me, it’s WAY more fun to laugh and move on than freeze in icy fear every time you make a mistake.
As a born again Christian, life was pretty darn grave. Don’t get me wrong, we were silly and fun-loving as lots of other people, but we also said stuff like “nonbelievers have a void in their hearts” and “our best deeds are like dirty rags” without missing a beat.
That’s what made deconverting terrifying — but on the other side, I’ve got a healthy appreciation for irreverence. Being a former fundie gives you a pretty great sense of humor. At first it keeps us sane, and then we just can’t help it! 😉
Don’t get me wrong, I still mourned all the time I lost when I was living so gravely, in fear, in judgment, in constant self-hate. Being wrong had serious consequences for me. But it also keeps me humble.
It prevents me from ever thinking again, there’s only one way.
It pushes me to remember I’ve been wrong before, no matter how fiercely I believed I was right, so keep thinking critically.
It reminds me to take other people’s perspectives in, even if I want to be biased against them.
It’s a small voice saying, don’t get arrogant and don’t look down. Once upon a time, you thought those things too.
We’re all just humans just trying to figure our way through this thing. I’ve made mistakes that remind me, who are you to judge?
3. Admitting we’re wrong frees us to heal from toxic old ways
In a lot of ways, it would’ve been easier to just cling to my old faith and stubbornly keep on believing. But if I’d done that, I would’ve stayed locked in a life where I feared punishment, dreaded breaking any rules, constantly diminished myself, judged people who were different…
I would’ve never discovered vodka. 😉
Or gotten tattooed. Or learned to cherish myself without apology. Or explored polyamory and learned to love unconditionally. Or, or, or.
If you never let yourself be flawed, you can’t be flexible. If you can’t be wrong, you can’t find your own right answer. Perfectionism makes us a slave to right now, but letting ourselves be human sets our futures free.
We can explore. We can heal from the ideas that were hurting us. We can create new traditions and let go of the ones that have held generations of people back.
4. Seeing when we were careless teaches us to be intentional about what we stand for and what we do
Aka, critical thinking? That sh*t is important.
If you keep burning your eggs every morning because you don’t want to admit you’re a bad cook, guess what? Eggs gonna keep getting burned.
You might get to avoid admitting you can’t even cook an egg, but imagine what you could do if you just took that little step and started learning. You wouldn’t be Gordon Ramsay, but you might just learn how to make food you actually like eating… and maybe a mean breakfast too.
On the other end of the spectrum, letting go of the bigger stuff can feel even scarier — but sticking with our old ways means we aren’t living for what we stand for. We’re just defaulting to what a bunch of people who, let’s face it, are probably already dead, stood for.
Homophobia, racism, pouring your milk in before the cereal. It isn’t easy to confess that compassion and common sense (looking at you, milk-firsters) = changing your ways, but at least it means you’re living out what you believe in as best you know how.
5. Embracing our mistakes teaches us that life is flexible
If there’s any formal life lesson that a former Bible-verse-memorization-state-champ turned pole dancing harlot can share, it’s that, listen, sh*t happens.
No one likes someone set in their ways. Having integrity or consistency is one thing, being that grumpy old-timer who sits in the same booth and orders the same meal with decaf and don’t forget the sugar every Sunday (looking at you, Fred) is another.
Life is interesting because of the plot twists. Sometimes the plot twists are hard and dark-and-twisty (having to separate from your family because they react so strongly to your coming out), and sometimes they’re sunshine and meadows (creating a life for yourself that’s full of freedom and joy.)
And when we learn that rolling with the punches is better than rigidly letting the waves keep smacking us in the face, generally stuff is easier.
That’s all this godless former perfectionist has for you today. If you’re also a recovering mistake-fearer or lifestyle-changer and you resonate, I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what mistakes made you laugh and what the school of f*ck ups has taught.
Happy Thursday, humans, and here’s to f*cking up.
Oh, and because I’d be making a real mistake if I didn’t end on this: