A few years ago, following a series of conversations with my adult children, I discovered a very liberating truth. Since then, I have come to refer to this revelation as “different mis-takes” and have found that most, if not all, of the people I have shared this discovery with, have had the same sort of experience. This is the story of “different mis-takes” and why I believe it can be a very helpful perspective on personal growth and happiness. The story begins in my youth.
My father was not an easy man to know and love. He had many personality traits that left most people, including myself, frustrated and bewildered (I am being polite). Among those traits was a nasty combination of impatience and intolerance. Intolerance for anything being done in any way other than his way and impatience for explaining what he wanted. It truly seemed like he expected us to be mind readers.
So, there I was as a young lad trying desperately to earn my fathers approval without a clue what he wanted, much less how he wanted it done. Needless to say, I failed to meet his unspoken expectations one hundred percent of the time. I wondered for years what the heck was wrong with me. When it finally occurred to me that it was not reasonable to expect things to be done a certain way and then to not explain those expectations, I vowed that I would not repeat that “mis-take” with my own children.
Fast-forward almost twenty years to the summer of 1999. Now I am the father of two bright and capable boys. I am going to be away from home all summer. My boys are ready and willing to step up and take care of the home while I am gone. They want to earn my respect and help their mother. They are brimming with pride and enthusiasm as I begin to instruct them on how to use and maintain the lawn equipment. I explain it ALL in great detail. What to check before starting the equipment, how to start the equipment, how and where to use each piece of equipment, and so on. Almost four hours later both of my boys are completely overwhelmed and frustrated. I am impatient with their lack of attention span. We are all exhausted and irritated with each other. CLASS DISMISSED!!
This situation could be viewed as a simple matter of an over-zealous father trying a little too hard along with not understanding the limited attention span of preteen boys. That is at least partly true but I have to be honest that I was completely blind to the idea that I could break it down and give them the most important information and allow them some freedom to figure out the rest. Unfortunately, that thought never occurred to me because I was so determined not to repeat my fathers “mis-takes.”
I repeated this same scenario many, many times as my children grew up. I would over-explain even the simplest tasks. They would try to concentrate on my instructions but I would eventually lose them. I would get upset at their short attention span. Then I would get upset with them for failing to follow my instructions. I had zero-tolerance for errors because I went to so much effort to explain everything in great detail. Almost every time, I exceeded their available attention span and frustrated them just as much (maybe more) than I had been frustrated with my father. I was certainly doing it different, but was it really any better?
When my sons and I had our conversation a few years ago and they informed me about how much my approach frustrated them, I knew it was true. My initial reaction to this revelation was that I had failed my kids. I was responsible for frustrating them and myself repeatedly throughout their lives. My oldest son almost completely gave up trying to please me because it seemed impossible to him. Rather than being a better father, I had to consider that I was, possibly, worse. Fortunately for me, our conversation did not end there.
My sons made it clear that while they did not enjoy my methods they did understand that my “different mis-takes” were an expression of love. Looking back, they understood and appreciated my mis-takes. They are both successful in their own lives, at least in part, because they learned the hard way how to pay attention to detail; a lesson they learned without my intention. I am grateful that they managed to find a positive outcome for themselves much like I eventually did with my father. My sons showed me the truth about “different mis-takes.” And, I sincerely hope that my sons make their own “different mis-takes.”
So, you may be thinking, “that’s nice but how is it a helpful perspective?” I think it is a great reminder to not be attached to outcomes but to focus on the process instead. I was trying to be a better father while seeking a better outcome for my children. The outcome was not necessarily better but, in the process of trying to do it better, I was expressing love to my kids. I was engaged and doing the best that I could. Somehow they realized this, thank God.
You see, “mis-takes” are not mistakes. I wanted to do it better but I just wound up doing it different. But we need to do it different every chance we get even if it just results in “different mis-takes.” We owe it to ourselves and the ones we love to grow and evolve. I believe that happens through the process of making “different mis-takes.” Trying to do better is important but it is very helpful to not be attached to the outcomes. We have to put in the effort and through that process, independent of the outcomes, we will grow.
Finally, the real gift in all of this is the compassion I feel for all of us. When we are truly doing the best that we can, how can we fail? We may feel like failures from time to time but we know the truth of “different mis-takes.” I hope you too can find compassion for all those in your life including yourself just as I have found compassion for my father, my sons, and myself.
Thanks for reading. Please leave your compassionate comments below. I need your help to improve my work so I welcome any and all critical commentary.