You will stumble.

You will stumble.

My college roommate got married over the weekend. There were seven of us who lived together my last year of college; all seven are now married.

The bride—who is one of those people who is fabulous about keeping in touch with old friends—was there when Will and I got married right after graduation, when I was 21 and he was 22. Two more of us also married shortly after graduation. One of us married in her mid-twenties. Three more—including last weekend’s bride—married in their thirties.

Our experiences have been very different; age obviously isn’t the only factor, but it’s a significant one. I haven’t lived by myself for more than a few weeks at a time, ever. My friend has been living by herself, in her own place, for over a decade.

During the ceremony, the pastor encouraged the couple in the familiar ways you often hear at weddings. But he added something I don’t remember hearing at a wedding before. He told the couple, You will stumble. But if you’re lucky, you will learn to restore each other.

I was struck by the assumption that failure was a natural and normal thing, because it’s something that has taken me a very long time to learn. Too long, really.

I might have been adult enough to get married at 21, but I was still growing up. (I’m still growing up, even now. Are we ever through?)

you will stumble

As a recovering perfectionist and barely-adult, I used to act (I hate to admit this) as though mistakes were preventable. I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I believed it in my core. If you prepared/studied/planned appropriately, and didn’t do anything stupid, then you could get it right the first time, every time. If you didn’t it was your own fault.

A large part of my own growing up has been to learn that failure isn’t necessarily bad and success isn’t necessarily good. It took me years to believe this intellectually, and even longer for me to believe it in my core, as one of those bedrock virtues I act on without question, like brushing my teeth, or kissing my family goodnight.

I screw up on a pretty regular basis. I haven’t gone down in flames in a spectacular fashion (at least not lately, although that option certainly remains on the table) but I disappoint myself and the people around me in countless ways, sometimes quasi-intentionally but often not. I don’t get it right, the first time or the hundredth, sometimes because I’ve failed to practice or prepare or consider and sometimes because I’ve been as smart and considerate as I’m capable of being and I still can’t get it right.

I used to think these kinds of failures were a waste, plain and simple. That was a broken way of thinking. Now I think they’re a healthy part of life, if extremely frustrating in the moment.

It might sound depressing, to bring up marriage and our closest friendships and immediately shift into talking about how those relationships will disappoint us. But I think this assumption of failure—even in these significant relationships—is really healthy. Sure, it keeps the relationship from falling apart when I inevitably stumble, or my husband does, or my friend. But it also makes me a much kinder and gracious person, a better wife, a better friend. (Anne means grace, so you might think that would come easy to me. It hasn’t.)

I’m trying to teach my kids this healthy attitude towards failure (and model it for them, which is harder): that screwing up isn’t a great personal failing, but something normal and natural and inevitable in this life, like potty breaks and flossing and (more painfully) mosquito bites.

They will stumble; so will the people they love. I don’t know which is harder: learning to be gracious with yourself or with others. Neither comes easy.

I do know that if they’re lucky, they will learn to restore the people they love—and themselves.

Has this been a challenge for you? Thoughts on recovering perfectionism, inevitably disappointing relationships, and grace for your own stupid mistakes are welcome in comments.


You will stumble

This post originally ran on April 1, 2015. 

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  1. Anne says:

    I love this post. I think I had to read and run when I read it when you posted, but it resonated with me quite a bit. I should remember the meaning of our name a little more often. It might remind me to give myself and others more grace when it is needed, which is often. Thank you, Anne!

  2. My mom asked me a few questions recently trying to compare my relationship with my husband to my brother’s (age 30) pretty new relationship. I told her I felt the two relationships were very different because we were 17 and 19 when we started dating, married at 23 and 25. We are now 34 and 36. We were so young when we started dating that I feel like we did a lot of “growing” together. We went through several “life lessons” together during our 20’s.

    My oldest son (2nd grade) recently made a bad choice at school that landed him in the principal’s office. A kiddo who rarely gets in trouble in the classroom and I end up with a call from the assistant principal….. Fortunately, I didn’t say too much to him because I didn’t have the right words. My mom was out of the country when it happened, when she came back a few days later I was finally able to share the news. The first words out of her mouth were that I needed to share the bad choice that I made in elementary school that also landed me in the office. Umm, duh why didn’t think of that…. 🙂 Sharing that story with him made all the difference in his attitude!! We were able to have a lengthy discussion about making bad choices and learning from them!

  3. Sonya says:

    Since you are a book person, as am I, you might enjoy a book by John Maxwell on this subject, called “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn”. It really shifted my perspective on learning from mistakes rather than considering them as failures, and this is something I’ve generally been pretty good at for most of my life. Although I’ll admit, I still have a lot to learn in this department!

  4. Diane says:

    After reading your posting, I was struck by the similarity in some thought processes. When I was a young mother and I didn’t everything right (which seemed to be way too often!) my thinking would be “Well, if you just worked faster, harder and smarter you could work full time and manage a household that included 4 kids – real stair steps, too as well as a husband who worked really insane hours (retail – don’t cha just love it?)” I will go back when I have a few moments and re-read your notes on ‘a recovering perfectionist’….there are more areas to which I’d like to respond.
    Thank you so much. I do appreciate so much the fact that you can share in a very open and unselfconscious manner! Brava! At the very least I’ve been given the pluck to start (again) working with my many imperfections in a very perfectionistic way! 🙂

  5. H says:

    Being a first time wife, I find myself stressed and beat myself up constantly because everything isn’t perfect in my home, the dishes are left in the sink before work this morning,there’s a load of laundry in the dryer to be folded, and then there’s dinner. I need to pick up a couple items to finish dinner. I wanted it all perfect before I left for work this morning, but it didn’t happen.

    I need to let go of the stress and realize, I’m not perfect, nor in my husband, and nor is the cat. We are all human and we all make mistakes…

    Thanks for this blog!

  6. Janet Miles says:

    I try to look at “failures” as learning curves. As far as marriage goes, very early on in our relationship my husband told me that not only did he love me, but he was “in love” with me and he has told me that several times since. We’ve had some ups and downs for lots of different reasons but at going on 32 years next month, I think we’ve done a good job of holding each other up through our stumbles. Side note–I did live by myself for about five or six years before we were married and I think that period gave me the knowledge that if something ever did happen to him/us I would have the strength to stand alone. That feeling has also helped me through some difficult times. Great post!

  7. Becky says:

    This is such a great post, and as a new reader I’m glad you’ve chosen to run it again. This particularly resonated with me: “As a recovering perfectionist and barely-adult, I used to act (I hate to admit this) as though mistakes were preventable. I couldn’t have articulated it then, but I believed it in my core. If you prepared/studied/planned appropriately, and didn’t do anything stupid, then you could get it right the first time, every time. If you didn’t it was your own fault.” I’m SO hard on myself when I make a mistake, and I have a tendency to beat myself up over it because I’ve also always thought they were preventable. And I think fear of making a mistake sometimes holds me back from trying something new. It’s something I’m working to move past but it’s hard and takes a lot of work and reminders that mistakes are normal and natural and happen to everyone.

  8. Greer Oharah says:

    I so appreciated this post today, Anne. More often than not I expect myself not to stumble. It is incredibly freeing to live knowing that stumbles are inevitable – both from me and others. Grace is what is needed, more than a determination to be flawless.

  9. Christy says:

    Thank you for this beautiful reminder. I’m 37 and still growing up, a recovering perfectionist, and trying to model a growth mindset for my children. It has been such a humbling process, but there is peace and freedom found in this work of failure, forgiveness, and grace.

  10. Ooh dear. I’m in my mid 20-s and when I read “I used to act as though mistakes were preventable,” my first thought was, “well, of course they are.” I’m a meticulous planner and if something goes wrong I immediately think either myself or someone else is to blame, which results in me being too hard on myself or on my friends, family, and strangers.

    Thanks for the reminder to act with grace and learn to accept mistakes for what they are, just mistakes.

  11. Kelli Wick says:

    This isn’t exactly an answer to your question, but your post reminded me: As my friend’s wedding is getting closer – only a month away – it’s been interesting to have conversations with her and realize that in my head, I’m trying to be so careful about balancing what I tell her about the good & bad that my husband and I have faced in our relationship. So in living through & then telling our failures to others we trust, we are able to use that to encourage them. (I’m also careful to balance it with keeping my mouth shut – because mostly, others are going to have to just live through the situations themselves. 🙂 )

  12. As a 19 year old reading this, I want to say thank you. I’m a recovering perfectionist too, and it is still something I will continue to work on for the majority of my life.

    “Failure isn’t necessarily bad, and success isn’t necessarily good.” <— I needed to hear that. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Grace says:

    Holy smokes has this ever been challenging for me! It’s something that I know in my head, but I can’t seem to believe in my heart when it actually happens. I love that you’re teaching it to your children now while they’re young. It will be so much easier for them to understand and accept as they grow up.

  14. Shawn says:

    If you haven’t yet read “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey, you will likely enjoy it and benefit from it.

  15. Gina Poirier says:

    Oh yes. This is like the hardest reality I can think of: I desperately fear failure, and yet I can’t avoid it. I think I have to constantly remind myself of this, that stumbling is unavoidable—it’s actually good in some places. So thanks AGAIN for the reminder!

  16. Lindsey says:

    Anne, I think this is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read on your site. Well done!

    It may just be that this really resonated with me, as I am recovering perfectionist through and through. Learning to embrace failure has been the greatest battle of my life. Thanks for sharing.

  17. I’ve been married for almost 8 years. Even just this past year or two I’m learning to be gracious and kind with my husband when he is not “getting it right”–just as gracious and kind as when he is. I see the big picture. I see how vulnerable and hopeful and weak each of us are. I respect him deeply, something that’s been built brick by brick each year, month, week, and day through tons of little peaks and valleys of ordinary life and big things too. Kindness. I think that’s how we restore each other, and I’m learning and leaning into it. To listen and sometimes not react or even say much. To watch him grow without interruption. To know ahead of time that the stumbling, like you said so well, is just part of it and it’s okay and in order for me to receive grace, I’ve got to give it.

  18. Becca says:

    Thank you for re-posting this from last year. I’m also such a perfectionist that I have tried to prevent mistakes and failures as much as possible. It’s encouraging to hear others who do take the same amount of time as I do to learn that mistakes and failures are not all consuming, but apart of life.

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