Where did I get the idea I have to be perfect? Aside from parental and peer pressure, I once worked for a man who had no tolerance for people who didn’t measure up to his standards (some of you may remember him). I learned to stay out of his office if I hadn’t finished an assignment or didn’t know the answers to his questions. When displeased he rolled his eyes with great drama and sighed. Loudly. You didn’t want to hear the sigh, let alone feel the weight of his disapproval and oftentimes, scorn. He made me want to hit my mark every time.
While I’ve gone to great lengths not to be the same kind of boss (my folks have no idea how good they have it!), I’ve held myself to his impossibly-high standards all these years. Except today. Today I missed my mark – really – and it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I felt elated afterwards, leading me to pinch myself and wonder if aliens had stolen my soul.
As I move toward retirement, I’ve been challenging myself to practice by taking on things that I haven’t ever done or am afraid I can’t do very well. The last thing I want to do is sit and watch Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer all day. So I’m pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
One way I’m doing that is by learning to shoot a handgun. I took a class a few weeks ago, and this weekend am enrolled in a concealed carry course. Prior to that I knew very little about guns except that they can mess you up with their forceful kick and are really, really loud. True enough, but I’ve learned how to manage recoil and I wear ear protectors. I joined a women’s shooting group too. Last week we learned about first aid, specifically about clotting blood and how to put bandages over three sides of a chest wound so the injured can breathe and doesn’t drown in his own blood. Eeuuuw! That’s one skill I hope I never use.
Tonight was range night. For $6.36 cents (I asked, but the guy has no idea why it’s an odd number), I rented a little booth on the range where I learned that missing the mark really won’t kill me. Au contraire. My womens gun group is so supportive that I wasn’t embarassed and no one laughed when I called the plastic-thingy that goes on my gun grip a rooster tail (it’s a beaver tail, dummy!), when my brand new Glock malfunctioned (likely due to operator error), and when for the life of me I kept shooting waaaay low. None of that bothered me even a little.
We, like the gray-headed ladies we are becoming, played Bingo, but with a little extra zing. The instructor called out “B-14”!, and if we had the number on our target (only placed out about three yards so we could still read the numbers), we had to shoot the appropriate square on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The youngest among us, a girl named Sarah (who is still of child-bearing age but appears to like being with us anyway), was the first to yell, “Bingo!” She’ll obviously be the one to beat.
On my way home, I considered my joy at having experienced a total absence of self-condemnatory thinking. Why, I wondered, was I content with a trophy for participation? Why am I ok with missing the mark?
I’ll tell you why. Because missing was a step toward mastery. Missing meant I was there, I tried. Trying meant I got better by the end of the night. I’ll be even better next time. Would my hyper-critical boss have expected me to excel to win his approval and would he have rolled his eyes? Absolutely. Do I care? I don’t.
None of us expects a newborn baby to walk, let alone run. Why do we always demand that of ourselves? I’m pretty danged proud that I’m out there giving it a whirl. I’m going to be a really good shot one day. My arc to achieving that runs smack dab through tonight’s failures. No, missing the mark ain’t bad at all. I’m in the hunt.
In fact, I’ve begun looking for other things I don’t do well. I’d like to make the perfect pie crust. No, scrach that. A pie crust, any pie crust, will do just fine.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe in many cases what we learn from coming up a little short while we take on new things teaches us more than the instant gratification and outside admiration of hitting the bullseye on the first attempt.