Making Mistakes Does Not Make Me A Bad Person

Making mistakes does not make me a bad person.  It makes me a learning person. — Audette Fulbright, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming

“Learning While Leading” is the book I wrote, published by Alban Institute in 2000. I love learning. It is why I was so happy to see the above quote by Audette Fulbright in the newsletter Quest, the monthly publication of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our Unitarian Universalist Church without walls, of which I am a member.

Rev. Fulbright notes that making mistakes does not make her a bad person.  For those raised in a “perfectionist” culture, this is good news. It is also soul saving. The perfectionist culture is a culture set up to make people feel bad and inadequate, leading to competitive relationships rather than supportive, collaborative relationships. Not sustaining, and essentially disconnected from life and reality. We are all, hopefully, works in progress.

Many years ago, I went to San Francisco for a month-long intensive immersion certification training in Neuro Linguistic Programming, a therapy to help people gain better control of how they think and process things, in the service of their empowerment. About midway through the course people began to express confusion, frustration, and for some, even anger. We had traveled from all over the country and given a whole month of summer vacation to this training, and we were feeling overwhelmed, confused and not sure what we were getting out of it.

All these years later I still cling to what the trainer John Grinder said to us:

“Be glad you’re confused. It means you’re about to learn something.”

That stopped me up short. “Oh, right,” I thought to myself. “That is why I am here. To learn something.” And I re-engaged.

A corollary to perfectionism, the need to always be right, is the need to always understand what is going on — to not be confused. And both of those needs are barriers we construct to learning, or to the conditions for learning — experimentation and the naming of questions or puzzles.

As we approach the holidays of Thanksgiving, and then the winter celebrations, I offer a special kind of gratitude — a gratitude that I’m sometimes wrong — and get to learn something; and gratitude that I am sometimes confused, because again, it means that I am open and positioned to learn.

Whether it be in the state of the world, the state of our nation, or how things are here, at church or at home, when directions seem confused, or outcomes disappointing, try receiving these as feedback that serves a greater good — your learning, and our opportunity for learning together.

Wishing you gratitude for the gifts that are your life,

Rev. Anita