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Normalizing Screw Ups

Normalizing Screw Ups

While watching an episode of 25 Words or Less, the celebrity giving the clues chose words that were not successful. Trying to get the contestants to say the word “entrance”, he offered, “threshold.” My choice would have been “not exit.” He did this several times throughout the rounds and his team was beaten. Badly. Yet Meredith Vieira praised him with, “You did a great job!” 

“No, he didn't!” I said out loud.

25 Words or Less' keeps it simple for test run - NewscastStudio

It’s time we normalized not doing a great job. I'm not saying encourage people to do poorly. Most of us want to be better at things as opposed to worse. But sometimes we just don't hit the mark. And instead of gaslighting people by telling them they did a great job what if we just laughed at the fact that we all screw up sometimes?

Meredith’s seemingly innocent remark is a reflection of the participation trophy era, which has stolen our ability to laugh at ourselves and further anchored shame as the consequence for not “succeeding.”

When we started giving kids prizes just for showing up, no one considered the impact. In an effort to be inclusive, this trend inadvertently strengthened the tradition of using shame as a motivational tool in a culture awash in capitalism, extreme religion, and white patriarchy. Shame is the most intense soul eating emotion a human can experience. We will do anything to avoid it. That’s why it’s the punishment for not capitulating. 

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Capitalism tells us that if we don't produce, if we don't create the maximum number of widgets we’re capable of, that we should be embarrassed, ashamed, and feel bad about ourselves. Those of us who have gone against the tenets of capitalism by pursuing passions that feel good often end up poor, which comes with its own rainbow of shame. Monetizing everything, even hobbies once engaged in solely for pleasure, has become de rigueur and when it doesn’t produce the intended revenue it, too, is a source of shame. This has created a transactional world with little room for transformative experiences.

Extreme religion uses shame as currency. Obey our rules or not only will you be shunned and possibly excommunicated from the community, you’ll burn in hell. Shame is a powerful motivation to show up for services every Sunday and put a check in the basket. Sure, there is Divine Forgiveness, but only if you return to the rules. While I don’t endorse murder or adultery, I can’t imagine any system that starts with me being “bad” and “unworthy” and “unsaveable” unless I capitulate completely to a finite list of rules being anything other than manipulative. 

White patriarchy dictates that if we don’t obey the laws of the hierarchy punishment is inevitable. And with it comes a boatload of shame. You’re a woman not satisfied with your rung on the ladder and vocal about your displeasure and desires? You must be hysterical, a term rooted in the Greek word for uterus that was only eliminated as an official psychiatric diagnosis in 1980 and was often grounds for being committed to a mental hospital. You’re a black man angry and frustrated with the way the world treats you? Obviously, you’re schizophrenic and require psychotropic medication to “calm” you down. Your skin being darker, your eyes being more almond shaped means you’re just not as valuable and bone-crushing shame that accompanies feeling less than keeps you in your place.

Shame is the flower that blooms from the seed of fear. And the fear of failing robs us of our humanity. It increases the drive for perfectionism, which is a debilitating addiction that causes so much strife and damage to self-esteem. 

Take a Swing at Cancer - Jimmy Fund Little League

What would happen if your kid struck out in their little league game and instead of making them feel bad that they were the third out with two runners on base, you laughed about it and said, “Yep. Sometimes that happens.” Responding with a silent groan while quietly mumbling about how there were two players left on base and it cost you the game causes a kid to hang their head and shame and feel bad about themselves for the rest of the day. And if you think it ends with the dawn of a new morning, you're wrong. 

Because those kinds of experiences are like being flayed with piano wire. 

You might not feel it that badly the first time but when it's repeated over and over, it ends up creating a bloody mess. If we were able to laugh at ourselves when we don't do as well as we would like to, it would remove the power of unfulfilled expectations from those who still choose to carry them. It would let us know that we're human and that nobody is at a hundred percent one hundred percent of the time. 

In my first sales job, I competed with the five men on my sales team for acknowledgment and recognition. I took work home with me and invested time in the evenings and on the weekends to make sure everything I did was examined multiple times in an effort to be perfect. Eventually it burned me out. 

When I finally reached the edge of breakdown, my national sales manager solemnly told me, “You’ve got to ease up, Staci. Even a thoroughbred doesn’t race every day.” Ironic when it was he who levied the expectation.

But it was me who accepted it.

The expectations we place on ourselves we project onto others, expecting them to be perfect when we can't do it ourselves. And it causes real damage to our quality of life and the ability to bounce back when we don't hit the mark. 

I say let's normalize screw ups. Let's laugh at them. Let's commiserate and sit with each other in all of the emotions – disappointment, frustration, anger and eventually the absurdity of expecting perfections – and watch fear and shame dissipate into the illusion they are. It’s the most rebellious and healing choice you can make.


Thanks for reading the Mosaic Platypus! I love sharing stories knowing they have the power to spark memories and nurture healing. It’s a part of how I contribute to this world and honor my role as a link in the chain of evolution.

The capitalistic strategy of subscription levels - you can see “this” if you pay to subscribe, otherwise you only can read “that” felt icky. I want to share this writing in the most inclusive way so all of what I write and do with the podcast-lette is available to everyone regardless of whether you pay.

If you’d like to support what I do, there are opportunities to be a part of it by purchasing a paid subscription to The Mosaic Platypus for only $5/month, make a contribution through Buy Me A Coffee or get yourself a copy of The Ten-Minute Self-Care Journal. Have a great weekend!

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