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The Adult A-B-C’s.
Guest post by Siofra McCann
I used to think that the mark of a functioning adult is capability, a person that is, or at least expected to be, relentlessly able. I was led, or lead myself, to believe that this ability was built outside of my mistakes, that you suddenly arrived at your 21st birthday, into a life free of ‘mistakes’. For many years I painted my self-portraits with the blood of my mistakes and achieved nothing. This heart-aching pursuit of perfection is the very mistake you spend your time trying to avoid. Most of us have heard of the infamous A-B-C’s that arise accompanied by the never-ending melody we would sing loud and proud throughout our primary schooling. The adult A-B-C’s go a little differently, they are a reassurance for your decision making.
If I was to tell you the A-B-C’s had now fundamentally changed, you must start with A, skip past B and arrive at C anyway, you would probably look at me funny. Although logically we know that isn’t the natural order of things, we tend to prioritize the avoidance of mistakes even when they provide valuable lessons. You should begin at A, avoid making the mistake that is B, but somehow manage to arrive at C anyway. This is the noose with which we often hang ourselves. It was the wise words of my father, that were gifted to him by his mother, that knocked me on my intellectual back. In his husky, all-seeing Northern Irish accent he planted a seed. My father is a man of many mistakes, big and small, but not a single one has stopped him from making the next and that, is entirely the point. He gently gifted me with what I can only describe as a family heirloom, he said: “My mother once told me, Son, you cannot get from A to C without traveling through B. In order to grow and learn you must go through B to get to C.” That brief sentence was built with an eternity's wisdom. With his words, I heard my Grandmother’s voice in my ear, ‘You don’t ridicule the thing that delivers you to the place you need to be,’ and here I was, doing exactly that.
A is a box full of your precious C’s - all those times you made a ‘mistake’ and learned something. A can often feel like the beginning as it predates the dreaded mistake, but it’s more of a starting point for the lesson at hand. B is the decision you make, that you might come to regret, but delivers you to C. But B is the dreaded mistake, the god awful deviance from A that simply should have never happened, and why? Because you knew better? Because you were able to avoid it? It is the moment you make the decision that you mull over for months, the moment you remark - where it all went wrong.
Often hindsight recalls the road from A to B as the most well-signed posted road you’ve ever walked, how could you have missed it? It was at this point I realized something deeply adult. There is a notion that point B always leads you back to A, and that the dreaded square one needs to be escaped. This idea that there is no use for mistakes, that you must anticipate and know better. But how can you know better without making the mistake that allows you to learn in the first place? This sounds quite silly if you look at how humans really learn. That time you burnt your fingers doing something you were told not to - did you sit and ridicule yourself? Of course not, you now have valuable information, fire is hot, and you won’t be quick to do it again. In future you won’t avoid burning your hand because you already made that mistake, but rather you have already learned that lesson, and that’s the key. It was with my Father’s words that all my regrets dissolved, how dare I disavow the mistakes I had made simply because they weren’t ideal. I had demeaned many lessons learned, things that were of great use to me, because of how I learned them. How ridiculous does that sound? Imagine telling someone it didn’t matter that they arrived somewhere simply because of how they arrived? You would be laughed out of the room, so why do we insist on doing exactly that with the lessons we learn? If your B, delivers you to C, it was not a mistake - it is progress. It is not your job to avoid mistakes, but it is your job to listen to what they tell you. Growth is uncomfortable, it always has been, but withering away in the face of a mistake, I assure you, is much worse. The pursuit of perfection tends to get your life in a choke hold, and the whole joke is, you’re going to make the mistakes anyway, but you’ll learn nothing. So loosen the reins, we are trial and error beings, we begin at A, we engage in B and we arrive at C, much better off than we were before.
The mark of a capable person is not perfection, but instead allowing your mistakes to be your teacher. You are not catapulted back to the start like a boomerang every time you make a mistake. The mistakes you make are just providing you with the tools you need to head down the road you are already on. The very first lesson you ever learned dressed the next one, and the one after that, and this has continued to this moment. I’m unfortunately not suggesting that you make decisions carelessly and pretend you’re learning because you would be kidding yourself and learning nothing. Take responsibility for your mistakes, suffer ever so slightly and then give them a purpose. The real mark of an adult is indeed ability, but not the ability to avoid mistakes, it is the ability to see their value and purpose, there are no mistakes where there is a lesson learned. You are not the culmination of your mistakes, but rather a collection of the lessons you have learned, a beautiful array of colours and shades that you should present yourself as to the next opportunity - The next mistake