Tag Archives: failure

11Mar/11

Perfect Pancake Day – Creating Triumph from Disaster.

Ours did not look like this…

As millions of mums around the world know, it was Shrove Tuesday this week – aka Pancake Day.  Now, while I am not trying to be a Perfect Mum, I would not feel happy if we didn’t make pancakes in our house on Pancake Day (or at least one day this week).

So, feeling brave, my three children and I donned our aprons and started making our batter.  After arguing with my eldest over whether to double or triple the quantities of ingredients (I won, but he was right in the end) we shared out the weighing, pouring in, and mixing jobs evenly, and proceeded relatively conflict-free.  Soon, however we realised that we had very, and I mean very, lumpy batter.  I’ve made quite a few batches of pancakes in my life (some not even on Shrove Tuesday!) and I know that having lumps is really part of the process. In my kitchen at least.  But these lumps were massive, and probably because they contained half of the flour and egg, the rest of the mixture was really thin.

“Oh this is not good,” I try to say in a light-hearted tone.

We attempt to whisk, then squash the lumps out and it kind of works.  It’s  not smooth, but ok.  Then we melt the butter and add a bit to the batter.  Not only does the butter immediately go hard when making contact with the cold batter, but we realise it is orange.  We conclude that we used the pan that I had made a chorizo and tomato pasta sauce in a few days before, and someone – probably me – didn’t wash it up properly.

So we’ve got a thin mixture with big floury lumps and bright orange buttery lumps. We should give up and start again, but we’ve been through so much it seems right to soldier on.

“This is the worst mixture we’ve ever made” says my oldest, like he’s enjoying himself more because of it.

“Nevermind, it might still taste nice,” says my middle one, in a light-hearted tone.

“Yum, yum,” grins my youngest, licking the flour off the table.

We start the frying.  “Remember, the first one is always rubbish, ” I say.  And it is.  The mixture is so thin, and the frying pan so old and warped that the pancake has a big hole in the middle.  So we move to another pan, and sacrifice another rubbish one.  By now, I’m starting to get wound up.  I’m getting talked at from 3 angles, my youngest making the loudest ‘now’ demands, and everyone is getting too close to the hot cooker. But they manage to take turns pouring their mixture in, flipping over and then eating their own creations.

“Mmm, delicious.” “Yummy” “Can I have the last one?” “They were great, mum.”

We congratulate ourselves on saving our pancakes from disaster.  I congratulate myself at allowing the process to get crazy, chaotic and imperfect, and not losing it somewhere in the middle.  Not so many months ago, I might have given up, shouted, cried, and basically had a tantrum because it didn’t all run smoothly, and I couldn’t cope with the chaos and noise. I can’t say that will never happen again, but I’m proud of myself for letting go of the need to be in control, and of celebrating imperfection with my children.  Hopefully, they learnt a good lesson in failure and success, persevering, and basically enjoying the process.

Image by http://www.free-stockphotos.com

08Mar/11

Do You Dare to Fail?

“Success is going from failure to failure without loss in enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill.

What do you think and how do you feel when you fail?

Maybe you complete a piece of work which wasn’t up to your usual standard, or shouted at your children, or forgot an important appointment, or received another rejection letter. How do you interpret your failure?

It is easy to forget that failure is a good thing. Most of us have heard the anecdote about how the inventor of the lightbulb Thomas Edison countered a criticism of his many ‘failures’. He said: ‘I haven’t failed. I just found ten thousand ways it doesn’t work’. We also hear about how successful entrepreneurs only succeed because they pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and keep trying and failing until they get it right, implying that you only really fail when you give up. So why don’t we apply this thinking to our own lives?

We used to. When we learnt to feed ourselves as babies we missed our mouths many times. When we learnt to walk we fell over and risked serious injury all the time.

It seems that as we grow up we lose the security of our faith in ourselves and we start to worry about what other people think. We feel the need to prove we are good enough and worthy of people’s affection, love and respect. And because we don’t want others to see us fail,  we become scared of taking risks and making mistakes.

Below is an exceprt from a speech at  Harvard by J K Rowling in 2008. Hopefully we won’t get to rock bottom, but perhaps we should not be so scared to risk it.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential…I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life… Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies…The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity.”

08Dec/10

Striving for Perfection

My name is Thea Jolly and I am a perfectionist.  It’s been 8 minutes since I set my last impossible and unachievable goal.

I’m not one of those really hard working perfectionists that succeed at pretty much everything but still think they are a failure.  I am what I call an idealistic perfectionist, which is probably another way of saying a lazy perfectionist. I have high ideals and goals for myself, but I don’t quite get them achieved – or even started. But somehow I always think I will achieve them, so when I inevitably don’t achieve them I feel like I’ve failed for not reaching my own impossible standards.

An idealistic perfectionist like me spends their days noticing or remembering or creating a long list of jobs, standards, goals that they should do which will make their life perfect.  The chatter in their heads is constant, always judging, analysing, questionning.  We agonise over the best, most perfect, use of our time because we have to achieve the most within the time we have. We are eternally optimistic about what we will get done today and always suprised when we don’t do it. The expectations we have of ourselves are crazy.

But last week, I had a bit of a revelation (if revelations can come in bits?).  I realised that being an idealistic perfectionist wasn’t a very good idea at all.  You see, previously I’d been almost proud of this personality trait.  I knew that it meant I was my harshest critic, and that I set my standards too high, but I also thought that this was better than being otherwise. No one else is going to kick me up the backside to make me a better mum, or a successful businesswoman, so I had to rely on myself to push me along. And improving and learning is what we are here for isn’t it? (I still agree with this last sentance.)

One of the causes of my change of heart was seeing my eldest son displaying the same perfectionist attitudes and behaviours. Seeing this in another person, especially one so young – he’s 8 – and who I love so much, showed me how self-destructive, defeating and just plain wrong it all was. So I decided to give it up.  Like an alcoholic who chooses not to drink each day I am now choosing not to set impossible goals and expectations each day.  Unlike an alcoholic who can’t undrink a forbidden glass of wine, I can replace my bad thoughts with more liberating and constructive ones.  Every time I think, “Oh I could finish the ironing tonight” (all 3 baskets of it!) I tell myself, “Hang on a sec, you don’t want to be perfect anymore, so lets just do it for 30 minutes .”  And when the children are arguing and I start to feel like they are spoiling everything, I remind myself, “That’s fine, life isn’t meant to be perfect all the time. It doesn’t matter if my children fight – it’s their job.” And I smile to myself and glide serenely past. Or most probably I don’t, but I’m trying. Either way it doesn’t matter because I’m not striving for perfection any more. I’m allowing myself to be imperfect and it’s incredibly liberating.

25Nov/10

Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster

I’ve noticed more and more recently that my life is very up and down. One hour/day/week I’m feeling motivated, efficient, hard working and light-hearted, and the next, feelings of despair, failure, guilt, anger or resentment are overwhelming me. On one side I am a super business mum and the other a self-critical procrastinating failing housewife.

What’s going on? Why do I let my emotions sabotage my life so frequently? Sometimes I can deal really well emotionally with what life (usually my kids) throws at me, but other times I succumb immediately to impatience, frustration, hopelessness or anger.

What can I do about it? Well here are some ideas:

1. Stop. Say stop. Shout stop. Write stop. Stop the negative thoughts in my head. Refuse to listen. Create white space instead.
2. Listen to my favourite music, calming, or inspiring, or fun.
3. Pick up my personal survival guide and read what I should say to myself in this particular situation.
4. Tell myself the emotion will pass and when it does I won’t feel so bad.
5. Go and lie down on my bed. Think about things I feel grateful for. (This last bit is very difficult, when I’m in the emotional depths.)
6. Get a hug from someone who loves me.