‘Make mistakes,’ is one of my war cries. Embrace your mistakes, cherish your mistakes, lean in to your mistakes, because it is only by bogging up that humans learn anything.
I work with horses and I write books. In horsing and writing, mistakes are crucial. If you try to avoid errors, to be perfect, then you never achieve anything because you are always holding back, afraid you will get bottom marks. You only get top marks by daring, sometimes, to risk tumbling to the absolute rock bottom of the class.
I know this. I say this. I write this.
But I can’t always do this.
The bloody, buggery gap between theory and practice sneaks up and whacks me round the chops. The internal voice in my head wails, ‘Why? Why? Why do you have to make all these bogs? Could you not just concentrate better and try harder and stop being such a screw-up?’
There, there, is the voice of shame. This voice does not say, ‘Well, you screwed up because you are human and all humans do this and you know that mistakes are marvellous opportunities for learning and you can shake it off and make it right and start again.’ No, no, the voice of shame says, without hesitation, ‘You are a screw-up.’ The voice of shame adores labels, and plasters them on everyone with hilarious gaiety.
I made a huge mistake this morning and I upset someone I love the most in the world. I had gone into tunnel vision, and I did not see the upset building, until it spilled over. There it was, and I had done it. ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ said the voice of shame. ‘You think you are all that and just look what you did.’
I apologised. Of course I did. I said we would do things differently in the future. I said I would pay more attention. I did all the things that you are supposed to do, if you are a half-decent person.
But still, I would have bitten my arm off to have taken that moment back. I would have paid all the money in the world to have rewound time to five minutes before, when I could have seen what I was doing and simply stopped.
When I write stuff like this, people often say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t beat yourself up.’ They are right. But it’s not as simple as that. Someone can’t merely say, do this, do that, and then it’s all bluebirds and butterflies. It’s that pesky theory and practice again. Complex emotions require complex processing. I wish I could simply snap my fingers and apply a glorious act of will. I will not feel remorseful, I will not feel stupid, I will not stumble into the pit of self-laceration. Because, after all, what does that achieve?
And yet, like a stately ocean liner who takes a while to change course, I have to honk my horn and make my slow circle. This is the circle back to reality and sanity, where one error does not cancel out all the good things. One mistake does not make me a terrible person. (The voices of shame are laughing their arses off now.) My theory is right: mistakes are good. Mistakes are opportunities, little motherlodes of information, signposts back to the Road of Goodness. Just at this very minute, my irrational mind does not believe that. I have to ask it to hush. I have to let the rational mind, which is not nearly so shouty, be heard.
I tend to write these kinds of posts for two reasons. One is that I need to get all the tangled, jangled emotions out of my head and on to the page. But there is also the suspicion, the fluttering hope, that there are lots of other flawed humans out there, just like me. They are putting on a good front and putting their best foot forward and putting on their game faces. Like me, they don’t want to admit to the messy, muddly parts, because they don’t want to be a bore. They don’t want people to feel sorry for them or tell them what to do. So they fake it, just a little. I’m fine, they say; watch me, being fine.
In the age of social media, there is a premium on perfection. Look at all those glossy lives, out there on the internet. Regard, say the Instawhizzes and the Facebook fabulosos, our charming children, our delicious recipes, our adventurous travels, our elegant homes. Watch us being organised, and Zen, and in tune with the universe. See our shoes!
Nobody’s life is really like that, but the irrational mind thinks it is. They don’t make bogs, says the irrational mind. They don’t forget to answer emails and lose their keys three times a day and sometimes, despite all their best efforts, swirl into a spiral of shame. They really are fine. Why can’t you be fine? All the time?
So I sometimes write about my bad days and my mad days and my absolute fuck-ups because I hope that, somewhere out there in the dark, someone might read my words and sigh a sigh of relief that they are not alone.
And, even more lovely, sometimes they leave a little word or a smiley face or a scarlet emoticon heart to tell me that I am not alone either. The one thing that self-laceration cannot stand is empathy. The moment someone walks in your shoes and you walk right back in theirs, the consoling thread of connection is strung from one human heart to another. And the theory stops being just theory, and becomes practice, and the world steadies on its axis and makes sense again.