I tried

It is better to try and lose, then to never try at all

One of my Achilles’ heels is the tendency to hold myself back. It is ironic because in so many other ways I have a bull-in-a-china-shop drive toward what I want. Guess this is just one of many ways I still have an all-or-nothing attitude. Either I am driven and unstoppable, or I stop myself before I have even begun.

One of my 2020 self-care tools was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. I was inspired by the creativity, acceptance, and talent of the participants. What I also noticed was how those who did not make it to the top, tended to doubt themselves usually to the point of self-sabotage. It was so clear to me from the outside to see that the only thing keeping them from progressing in the competition was themselves. As a career consultant, I see this play out in real life too.

Almost every day I coach job seekers who are their own worst enemy. They focus on what they think will be the interviewer’s concerns and accept the lie that they will not be considered for the position. What we work on is helping them prove to themselves first why and how they are a perfect fit for the position, so they can then express this during an interview and land the job.

Photo by Umit Y Buz on Unsplash

Lately I have been thinking of all the ways I stopped myself in the past. During the interview to become part of the Northwestern University theatrical directing masters program, I was asked to participate in the same exercises the actors did. I reluctantly agreed but didn’t put any effort into it and therefore was not even considered. I was accepted into the UCLA directing program but could not find my voice and found it easier to give up than try. In corporate America, I had projects where I allowed the group to take the lead and didn’t insist on the level of quality I did in my own work; the results were dismal. My experience in Roosevelt’s organizational development course really shows how I minimize myself, and therefore my results. Again and again, I found myself to be my own worst enemy.

My desire for perfection leads me to my all-or-nothing mentality. Either I know I am going to be not only successful but the best, or I don’t try at all. I defeat myself before I even begin. Just as I counsel the job seekers, I am making an effort to try, even if I don’t think I will succeed perfectly. Over the last two years, learning Spanish has really helped me. I had loved Spanish in junior high, but when I reached high school and had to speak the language alone, not as a class, I shut down. I was shy and timid and didn’t want to be judged. When we moved to Mexico, I was the same way. I didn’t want to be judged for my poor language skills. Finally, I learned to accept my ability – or lack thereof – and spoke as well as I could every chance I could. Through my amazing teacher and getting out there and making a fool of myself, my language skills have greatly improved. I focus on trying and practicing, not perfection.

Where are you holding yourself back in your life? What do you want to accomplish but don’t have the courage to try? Explore the why and take a baby step toward your dreams.

le boat boating

Loving Life’s Imperfection

Back in the day I had a, thankfully, short-term obsession with Tyra Bank’s America’s Next Top Supermodel contest show. What I loved was how the judges looked at a super-tall, super-thin, super-perfect woman and focused-in on her one flaw. Perhaps it was an oversized mole, a gap in the front of their teeth, or a slightly crooked nose. I know what you are thinking. “How dare these judges focus on the minor flaw of these otherwise amazing specimens of female beauty!” But it is not what you think. The judges did not focus on the flaws to criticize them. They focused on the flaw because it was what made them interesting, unique, and memorable. It was their imperfection which drew our eye to them. It was their imperfection which made them truly beautiful. Over the years I have hung on to this premise to help with my own issues of accepting my body, and over time bit by bit I have accepted the skin I’m in. What I have been noticing lately is how my expectation of the perfection of life is also not achievable, and how the imperfection of life is also the thing that makes life interesting.

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I had an amazing honeymoon. We visited four European countries in two weeks. What is interesting is when I think of our trip, I don’t remember the amazing meal we had in Grote Markt Brussels Belgium, the five-star hotel we stayed at in London, or touring the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. What first comes to mind is “Brugge Kaput”; two words that both ruined our day and made for the most memorable day of our honeymoon.  My husband and I love boating so part of our honeymoon included a four-day trip on the canals of Holland in our own houseboat. Much of this trip was an adventure like realizing the first river we had to cross was the busy Amstel filled with enormous container ships, learning how to navigate using a guide all in Dutch, and running across unexpected points of interest like the Belgium witch-trial museum.  Out of all of these adventures, the first thing I think of, the first thing that comes to mind about our entire honeymoon is “Brugge Kaput.”

le boat boating
Le Boat boating tours

We were on the last day of our houseboat adventure. We had just spent the last hour floating past idyllic farm fields and came into the last town and the last bridge before getting back to where we rented the boat. We had planned to spend a quiet evening anchored in the large lake nearby then returning the boat the next day. Throughout the journey we had come across bridges and locks, learning to honk our horn to alert the attendant then pay a few guilders for the attendant to let us through. We came up to the final bridge, honked, and waited. And waited. And honked again. And waited. This went on for quite some time before the grumpy old attendant showed up and talked on and on in Dutch. (side note: all the guidebooks we bought said that English is common in Holland. It is not. English is common in Amsterdam but not in the small towns we were visiting.) The words we caught were “brugge” which we had learned meant “bridge” and “kaput” which I learned from my German father which meant “broken.” The bridge was broken.

We finally understood that the bridge was down but should be working the next day. We went into this tiny, tiny town to find a phone to ask the boat rental company what to do. Option 1 was to go back the three days we had just traveled. Option 2 was to wait it out. We decided to wait it out, but not to stay in this town which seemed to consist of a broken bridge and a small store with the phone we used. Although we were tired from traveling, we decided to sail back the hour or so, past the now monotonous farm fields, to the larger town we had seen on the map. What a great choice!  The town had an actual marina and included in the small fee was the use of bicycles. We road into town, explored the shops, almost got hit by a bus, and had an amazing day. The next day, we once again motored past the same really-boring-now farm fields we had passed twice before. Out of everything we saw and experienced on our trip, I wouldn’t change this adventure for anything.

Next time you are having a bad day, next time your best laid plans are ruined, breathe. Find the beauty in what is happening versus what you wanted to happen. Look for the silver lining and be in the moment to enjoy the wonder of what will unfold.