A Million Ways to Fail

Once upon a time, there was a girl – a girl who wanted to get it right. Every time. Whether an inconsequential task or the most important work of her life, she had to get it right.

Once upon a time, there was a world – a world which demanded perfection from every possible angle. A world which insisted upon getting it right. A world in which achieving from one angle, meant failing  from another. A web of impossibility.

Once upon a time, there was a God – a God who demanded perfection, but provided for imperfection.

Once upon a time, the girl grew into a woman – a woman who still fought to get it right, forgetting there was grace for when she got it wrong.

The woman had a profound experience in a least expected moment volunteering at her sons’ school. The elementary art teacher handed her a stack of squares and gave an overall vision with limited instruction.

The woman set to work as time ticked away. Thoughts flooded her mind:

  • How far down the wall should these go?
  • How many per column? She mentioned eight. Was that a ballpark or a hard & fast? Will it all fit with eight? What if I do nine or ten? What if I do less?
  • Am I rolling the tape right? Will she notice? Am I using up too much tape? I don’t want to squander her supplies. 
  • These need to stay up all year. Will the tape stick on the ones I re-positioned? 
  • This tack strip down the middle – do I put them above and below or do I cover it? It looks funny covered and uncovered. What is she expecting? How was it done before? Will she wish I’d asked?
  • There are three shade of each color. Will it still look like a rainbow if I put the wrong shade next to the new color?
  • Is this taking too long? Did she expect I’d have the purple done by now and move on to blue? 
  • Did I start at the wrong end? Should it ROYGBV left to right or right to left? 
  • Did I measure it right? What if once all the colors are up, they don’t fit?
  • Do I put them up in the order they are stacked? Do I distribute them so there is an even mix of boy/girl displayed at eye level and at the extremities? 
  • Should I put space between them or make them flush and tight? 
  • Do I cover the ugly red fire extinguisher box? Is that a fire hazard? 
  • Are the columns too tall? Will kids four feet tall be able to see their artwork?
  • Are they too short? Will the bottom ones get dirty and pulled down?
  • Is it okay to leave them face down on the hallway floor while I attach tape before putting them up? Is this disrespectful to the artists to let their work get dirty?

The number of doubts, concerns, and questions was laughable, but she felt the firm grip of “what if I do it wrong?” Would she be a never-again-requested volunteer? Would she be blamed? Would she cause more work for the hard-working? Would she be misunderstood and disrespected?

She was reminded of other times she’d felt this way. Preparing dinner with a friend. She was tasked with chopping the broccoli. There had been a similar inner-monologue:

What knife should I use?
What side of the counter should I occupy?
How do I cut it?
Are these pieces too big?
Too small?
Am I taking too long?
Do I wash then cut or cut then wash?
What pan should I use?
How much end do I trim?
Do I clean-up the stalks?
Does the excess go in the trash or the disposal? 

Except the inner-monologue slipped out. In the form of question upon question upon question. About broccoli. 

Neither the art teacher nor the broccoli-friend demanded perfection or a “certain way.” But this was how the woman had committed to living. It was the broken way she was trying to make life work. She couldn’t bear to get it wrong. She wanted to be useful. She wanted to fit. She wanted to be kept around.

In the spectrum of her life’s responsibilities, these ranked rather low. Not life or death. Not unfix-able. Not people’s hearts. Paper and tape on a cement-block wall. Broccoli. Not much at stake. Not even her job. Not even her family. Not even her life. Tasks – yes, ones to do well. But as with anything, they wouldn’t hit perfection.

Like her parenting.
Like her job.
Like her marriage.
Like her friendships.
Like her writing.
Like her cooking.
Like her kids’ performance, character, behavior.
Like her finances.
Like her on-time-ness (or lack thereof).
Like her fitness.
Like her home.

All bound to fail in one way, shape or form. Because every opportunity in life presents one million ways to fail and one brilliant way to live: grace. Grace to do the job, to do it well, and to do it a unique way.

30 minutes into her task, the woman realized, there was no way she would replicate the art teacher’s plans.

The teacher had given the amount of direction she deemed necessary. The rest was up to her. Not to read minds. Not to achieve perfection. To do it how she saw fit. To add her own flavor. She realized she might find a new way to do it; she might even improve upon previous versions. Or she might, indeed, disappoint someone. But, if she did, so what? It would not be her fault. Her job was to do the best she could and let that be enough.

Because she was enough. Her 100% was enough.

Even if it failed. Even if it disappointed.

Once upon a time, there was a woman – a woman who realized she would never get it “right,” a woman who was unleashed to live in freedom, in grace, and in her unique role in this world. Still facing a million ways to fail, but standing firm in the only way to live.

credit to the kids’ art teacher for this fantastic project of first-day monochromatic self-portraits

4 thoughts on “A Million Ways to Fail

  1. That display looks so cool! Good job Amy! (And you just described my inner dialogue over many inconsequential tasks & activities, as well as important ones. Recovering-perfectionists-leaning into-grace UNITE!)

  2. Failure–an assured way of life. Perfection–no can do. Love the pictures of the self-portrait rainbow. All those self-portraits kind of hit your premise on the head–not a one of them is perfect. Great blog, babe.

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