“Mommy! I just drawed a letter!” My three-year-old sang from behind a coloring book, wielding a crayon with a flourish.
“Nice job,” I replied distractedly, as many parents do in response to the thousandth summons by a toddler for attention. “Which one did you draw?”
She lifted the page, full of multicolored scribbles.
And she had.
Soon the page was full of the letter C, multiplying like bunnies across the scribbles. It became the day’s obsession. Her excitement over the little crescent shape was refreshing, and I found I was jealous of her exuberance over something that seemed so small. With lists of calls, emails, and tasks staring up at me from my planner, I wished that I could for a moment enjoy that feeling of accomplishment. Instead of that feeling a rookie plate spinner, frantically going from pole to pole, and then realizing that the furthest plate from you is the one that’s about to crash to the ground. But as a plate spinner, everyone expects you to be able to keep those plates up there. And if you don’t…if you can’t… well, are you really a plate spinner? Are you really a writer? Are you really successful?
As it does, a still, small voice reminded me gently, but with the biting edge of truth, “Everyone starts somewhere. Or else they never go anywhere. Starting is the most important part.”
Kids start with things like the letter C. They start with a drive, a sense of accomplishment, and a thirst for more. And for the most part, it’s really difficult to get them to convince them they can’t do it.
For me, something happened in college. Maybe sooner. But somewhere between the combination of peer competition, discovering how it felt to fail in front of others, and learning about becoming a responsible adult, I learned that no one was going to applaud me for writing a thousand-word paper, much less the third letter of the alphabet. And so I also discounted those steps, those basics, as worth less than a pat on the back.
Having a child changed that. I know there are many people who are wiser than I am, and didn’t have to go through the early years of parenting to appreciate the foundation that going through the basics gives us. But I’m rather hard-headed and have this desire to just be good at stuff immediately. And if I’m not, I struggle with believing that practicing the basics will actually help me improve. I’m just that person. And I’ll probably always be working on that. Forever.
Anyway. I’m learning to appreciate the basics again. I’m learning that starting something new, and not being good at it yet, is not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean that I fail, or that I am less. In fact, it means I’m working towards my success.
When we learn new things, face challenges and criticism, we have to learn to take it in stride and keep trying. Sometimes that means turning off Facebook and social media to limit the comparison many of us internalize. If you constantly see someone doing what you want to do, and you’re frustrated because you’re not there yet, remove the opportunity for comparison. Focus on what you can control — yourself. Because what you don’t see is the time and effort and frustration they’ve worked through to get to where they are. Everyone has to pay their own dues.
My favorite quote from my second least-favorite Batman movie puts it so well.
“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
And that learning creates our success. Maybe not how we pictured it in the beginning, when we were just learning our letters, but our success will result if we keep picking up and focusing on the goal.
What project have you started this year (or want to start) that’s made you have to start over with the basics?