This I Believe

Beth - Brentwood, Tennessee
Entered on April 16, 2006

Accepting My Mistakes

When I was in my early twenties pursuing an education in medicine, my goals were distinctively different than they are today. I recall that one of my lofty ambitions was to be perfect in everything I did. I would know all the answers to my patients’ questions, would never commit a social blunder in public or private, and would meet all of my self-imposed deadlines. I worked long hours to try to achieve perfection. My overambitious and unattainable goals served to torment not only myself but those around me, who I also expected to live up to my high standards.

I believe that having children helped me to learn how ludicrous it is to be perfect. I recall working on a scientific paper at my computer when I went into labor, realizing instantaneously that it would be a long time before the paper was completed. Unread medical journals piled up while I played with my son and sang him to sleep. My patients didn’t seem to mind that I regularly showed up late in clinic, as long as I had my baby pictures to share. The “labor” paper eventually got written and published about two years later.

Just when my life appeared to be returning to normalcy, my son was diagnosed with autism, a mystifying neurological condition in which he cannot relate normally to his world. I find it ironic and wonderful that through helping my son to overcome his disabilities, I’ve become better at relating to the world around me. Things that come naturally to other children, such as following the rules at school and in our society, are a constant challenge to him. His talented and supportive teachers recently put a program in place where if he behaves appropriately in his classroom, and only messes up once per day, he will get a reward. Allowing him to have this “mess-up” opportunity made all the difference in his success with this program, and is allowing him to achieve his goals.

Through being a mother, I believe I’ve learned to accept my own “mess-ups” as a normal part of my life. I am late for at least one appointment a week, routinely misplace my cell phone or lock myself out of my office, and sometimes send an email that I end up apologizing for. Those around me don’t seem offended, however, by my imperfect behavior. They actually seem relieved that I have given up trying to be perfect and am willing to accept my mistakes.

Every so often, I catch myself regretting why I didn’t have the wisdom to figure out this “mistake thing” years ago. I have difficulty accepting why it took me so long to “get it.”

I wish I could convince the young people that I mentor to let go of their ambitions to be perfect. But then I realize that acknowledging where I am now, where I have been, and where I am going, is part of accepting my mistakes.