dear hilary: the four months later reminder

Dear Hilary,

Do you have any advice for how to keep myself from panicking every time I make a mistake? The kind of panic that sets my heart racing. The kind that makes me want to throw up. How do you bear a mistake?


Dear Perfectionist,

At a job I had a few years ago, I got an email. It was from my boss, ad it asked me to explain a complaint he had received about something I had done. I read his email while eating a granola bar and plotting my next strategic move to get the guy in microeconomics to ask me out. You can imagine, then, when I read that email.

I fell apart. I cried hysterically. I wrote back to my boss apologizing profusely, trying at once to justify myself and take all the responsibility. I cried through a class that afternoon. I cried in bed that night. I was utterly convinced that this was the end. I had ended my job. I had ended the office. I had ended everything.

Love, I am here. I am typing into an iPhone screen from Colorado. I am alive, the office is okay. That mistake did not signal the end of all things. It didn’t have that kind of power.

Our mistakes rarely do. You panic from responsibility, from fear, from imagining the possible outcomes. I think it is wiser to remember that love conquers fear (even in our jobs). Remember that this mistake is yours, too, to own as part of learning and growing. Even what we do wrong is put to good use in a different kind of economy.

Four months after that email, and I was fine. You should laugh, sweet pea. You wrote to me looking for what to do. But really, you’re not going to need to do much other than wait. Own this as part of how we learn. Own it as you walk around the quad worrying about what went wrong. Own it with all your might, that it will teach you good things and brave things and beautiful things.

And four months and then four years from now, it will be part of a story you tell to encourage someone else. It will be so part of you that you do not bear it: you love it.



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