Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: Why Messing Up Is Good For You

On Mindful Monday, my readers and I practice the art of pausing, TRYING to be still, or considering, ever so briefly, the big picture. We’re hoping this soul time will provide enough peace of mind to get us through the week!

I’ve been “mastering” my perfectionism problem this summer, as contradictory as that statement sounds.

I joined a Masters swimming program knowing full well that I would be placed anywhere from the slow lane to the medium lane … that is, at least two lanes from the fast lane. I am swimming with folks who have swum the Chesapeake Bay and back a few dozen times. In two hours. Probably taking less than ten breaths.


Last week none of the slow-to-medium swimmers showed up, so I tried to keep up with the mermaids, feeling much like Nemo with a gimpy fin, before he was kidnapped by the diver and placed in a fish tank. I was swallowing plenty of water as I tried to thrust my arms out of the water in a sorry-looking butterfly stroke, and, less than halfway to the deep end of the pool, the mermaids were already doing their half-second flip turns, coming back in my direction. The afternoon was very hard on my fragile ego. Two days later, I am still tired and sore. BUT instead of telling myself that I am a sorry-swimming, lazy loser, I am using the achiness and fatigue as an opportunityto accept–even celebrate–my averageness.

This is huge progress for me … to be perfectly fine swimming in the middle lane, knowing that there is no way in hell I will be able to catch up to the gal who swam butterfly for the US Naval Academy’s swim team. Even if I quit my job, and spent nine hours in the pool every day, she would probably still be able to lap me a few dozen times.


Since my son David is the one who inspired me to try group swimming again, I keep imagining myself as an 8-year-old, attempting a new sport or activity for the first time. That mutates (most of) my anxiety and nervousness into playful fun … so that I don’t take much of it seriously, like I do with practically everything else in my life.

Beyond Blue reader Mel sent me a great piece the other day by Michelle Russell who writes the “Practice Makes Imperfect” blog. In the post “Why Getting Things Wrong Is Vital to Your Well-Being,” she writes:


When we are very young, everything is play. We don’t worry about failing because we’re so excited about the trying. We haven’t yet learned that we’re supposed to think of ourselves as being on trial before the world.

Think back to your childhood and the first time you rode a bike. Or jumped off the high dive. My guess is that the giddiness and excitement you felt outweighed any bumping-into-curbs or belly-flopping that you might have done. You didn’t do it perfectly, but you had a blast making the attempt. And because you had so much fun, you did it again, and again, until you improved. But the improving wasn’t the goal. The fun was.

So here is the reason why I’m saying that it’s vital to screw things up once in a while. You must learn that it is not the end of the world. That you can recover, and keep trying, and get better.


You must learn failure-resiliency. You need to know, deep in your bones, that you can always bounce back.

And maybe even have some fun in the process.

This philosophy not only works for me and my ambition–big and small–but also in how I direct my kids in their own pursuits. Because I don’t want them to grow up to be the control freak that I am. 

The other day, when David’s swimming coach was handing out ribbons from the last meet, I so wanted my boy to get one. In fact, my competitive nature almost reared its ugly head and  stole one from David’s friend who got seven. (So unfair.)

But we walked home empty-handed, my son and I. And that’s good! Because maybe he will learn … and I will learn … that swimming isn’t about winning a blue or red ribbon. It’s about having fun and learning. Even if you belly flop when you dive and your butterfly looks more like a caterpillar. Even if, in the time it takes for you to swim 25 meters of freestyle, the competitive swimmer next to you has finished her 100 meters.


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  • Maria

    Oh, to learn that. But maybe if you keep saying it and I keep hearing it, it will one day sink in and become part of me.

  • Vivian Eisenecher

    I like the term “failure resiliency.” At 61 I’m learning a new job and I will now stop and think about the big picture.

  • Sylvia

    Thanks that story was very inspirational i loved it!

  • Sheila Ware

    I really like your philosophy on this matter. It has helped me to realize that I too shall have to think about the “BIG” picture instead of “sweating” the little things in life.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart and may GOD bless you you!!!!!

  • Dunga

    The whole reason we have setbacks is to give us an opportunity to learn from them, to figure out what we did wrong, so we can succeed next time.

  • Kathy

    The timing of your piece couldn’t have been better. After facing my own personal ‘colossal’ failure, like you, I’m trying to put things into perspective and get through this. A friend told me: You’ve got the 95%, which is what everyone else is focusing on, but YOU’re focusing on the 5% that you think is lacking – and letting that 5% define you (the ‘loser’ part). Try instead to look at the 95% and enjoy what you’ve got going FOR you. It was great advice!
    Thank you for sharing your story – it was very uplifting.

  • Kati

    Yeah, it’s that Big Picture thing that I so often forget about. Maybe I could hang a big picture on my wall to remind me? A tattoo perhaps?
    Also, Vivian, you are an inspiration! At 50, jobless, alone for the first time in my life, I fall into the trap that it’s too late to start a new career. Not so.
    “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” one of my favorite quotes from Finding Nemo! I make it a mantra when I’m feeling lost or stuck. And Dorry (Ellen Degeneres) has such a happy attitude. :) … In fact, there’s a lot of wisdom in that cute film.

  • Your Name

    thank you for this article its on time for me

  • kendra

    Such a refreshing message. It is amazing to me how somewhere along the way we forget to enjoy the journey because we get so focused on the destination. I have found that we can find success in failure – if are willing to take what we learned and grow from it. This is what life is about, right?

  • Your Name

    This is a great articale…..I have began a new adventure amognst my employment and having great difficulty in succedding…if it were not for my new boss telling me i am actually ready for tis position I would have quit by now…
    I do have one question….how many times can you fail before things really begin to sink in and you become good at what you are suppose to do?? I seem to fail at something new everyday….my fear is that my new boss will come to think that I am not going to be successful, that he will eventually say, you have been doing this long enough to know what and how to do this.
    I want to become not just good but great at what I do, but get down on myself for something that goes wrong everyday….any suggestions??

  • Dianne

    Terrific blog Therese! I also am a perfectionist, and my son despises it. He is often there to remind me that I am way too picky about things, and now I am thankful for that. Food for thought: Life coach Tony Robbins has said that the most successful folks in the books are merely those who have failed the most and kept on trying. So it seems that abject failure is necessary to success, as is the persistence to keep trying. We cannot be perfect at everything, but we can be darn good at something, and we should focus on our good points and accept those things we are merely mediocre at as growing points. A very good point you made is that we should have FUN trying! When the enjoyment is gone, so is the motivation. May we all thoroughly enjoy our attempts this day!

  • Kate

    Thank you for this article. I can walk around for days holding onto failures…beating myself up. I think sometimes we expect things of ourselves that aren’t at all realistic. Setting realistic expectations of ourselves can really help, and perhaps even planning for some room to fail occassionally, because it’s bound to happen. To the person who mentioned failing on the job, I relate and am bothered by it too. I think a conversation about the expectations on the job might be see if, in fact, your boss’s expectations are different than yours. He may expect you to fail as you learn new skills..this is how we learn. Sending you courage :)


    The people I most admire are those who fall and get right backup again! That shows character. My favorite motto is “Anyone can do the easy thing, few choose to do the right thing.”

  • Christine

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I welcome the notion after overspending again! Peace

  • Liti

    ThankYou Therese for this post.I am thinking hard about going back to finish my undergrad degree.I am 52 and havn’t been in college for 25 years.I tend to think of the humiliating factors I would feel instead of the thrill of learning like I did all those years ago.God indeed led me to this message tonight.I’ve been with you for about 3 years.
    God bless you,Liti

  • Wordchild

    I think this article very well said, as I have very well read!
    Needed for every control freak, perfectionist and the like. Its so hard for people like myself who cant afford to mess up, cant afford to make a mistake because everyone is dependent upon you or looking at or upto you. But hey we are all human and fallable and after messing up trust God for His forgiveness and forgive yourself.

  • kate/deepwithin

    Great post Therese…your summer efforts will help me with my moving onto winter ones…scary to suceed, scary to fail…

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