Go ahead and screw up: A lesson from my 8th grade diary

Me at 13 years old, in a rare, worry-free moment.

I recently went through some old boxes of mine that contained photos, various memorabilia, and journals.

From my 8th grade journal, I noticed this little nugget of wisdom, which I had written on New Year’s Eve when I was 13.

My note-to-self instructs me to do two things:

1. Try not to worry too much.

Solid advice. Followed by…

2. Try not to screw everything up.

Kinda contradictory messages there, little Cam. Good luck, indeed.

I laughed pretty hard at this. I’m still laughing.

Um, kinda hard not to worry when you’re petrified of screwing everything up, isn’t it?

Yet, days later, I have to admit I’m still reflecting on what I wrote. I think there’s some interesting guidance hidden in here.

Here’s what I think we can learn from this.

Idea #1: Standard advice like “don’t worry too much” (along with things like, “let it go,” and “be nice to yourself”) is useless, unless…

…we change how we think about ourselves and our lives.

Oh, little Cam. Feeling like everything would fall apart without constant vigilance.

It’s laughable now, but poignant. Maybe you can relate to feeling this way when you were younger — or right now.

On the one hand, we want to relax a bit, and enjoy life. But it’s so easy to get caught up in all the other messages telling us we also need to work harder, make more money, get fitter, and try to control every variable we face. On top of it all, we’re supposed to be happy. Many of us feel bad for feeling bad.

The irony.

I’ve learned that this goal of worrying LESS only comes with doing other things MORE.

In order to believe it’s OK to screw up, we need to trust ourselves more. We need to believe in our own resilience. We need to know that mistakes are recoverable.

And, rather than focusing on what we might lose, we need to focus more on how we can grow. The opportunities. The adventures. The possibilities that are on the other side of worry.

Idea #2: It’s OK to lower the bar.

Actually, if you think about it, “try not to screw up” isn’t terrible advice, if we rephrase it a bit.

Maybe the bar doesn’t always need to be set to ‘awesome’ or ‘excellent’ or ‘crushing it’ or whatever code for success is used these days.

What if we replaced it with goals like…

Just do your best. Try not to make things worse. See if you can make them a little bit better, even.

That’s actually a compassionate — dare I say creative — point of view.

Idea #3: Go ahead and screw up.

This is the biggest and most important message, to me.

I have indeed screwed up in my life. Some of these screw ups you might know about; some of them you might not. That’s because life is not the highlight reel you see on Facebook or Instagram.

But those “screw-ups” have brought me some pretty amazing rewards. Growth. Self-knowledge. Freedom. And, funny enough, I worry a whole lot less.

So here’s what I’d like to tell my younger self:

Your life is not a delicate egg that you have been entrusted with to keep safe and precious.

It’s an opportunity to live.

Don’t think so much about worrying, just get out there and do. Get invested in what you’re doing. Love it. Play with it. Get excited about it.

Try things. All kinds of things; even the stuff you think you’re no good at, or you’re not sure you’ll like. Trying things is fun. It’s courageous. It’s adventurous. It’s how we learn. It’s life.

Embrace a growth mindset. Enjoy the process of learning. Let it be fun — even the failures.

Participate. Put your hand up. Share your ideas. Take a guess if you don’t know.

Screw up a little. Learn from it.

Screw up a lot. Learn even more.

Go on adventures. Skin your knees. Get off course sometimes. You’ll have to work at it, but trust me: sometimes you have to get lost in order to find your way home.

Believe in your own resilience. You have more than you know.

Embarrass yourself once in a while. A little embarrassment never hurt anybody.

Make mistakes. Make meaning out of them.

So yeah, go ahead and screw up.

In the end, the screw-ups make for better stories anyway.

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This article was originally published at camilledeputter.com on May 20, 2017.

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