Recently, a student asked me, “What was the most important lesson from doing 365 first-time experiences in one year?”
I had to pause and think because there were so many lessons and benefits from doing something new every day—consciously stepping outside my comfort zone on a regular basis changed me.
But, I settled on this one, because I know it’s something my college students struggle with; we all do: A year of firsts taught me to accept the risk of imperfection when trying new things.
I realized when I got stuck and resisted change in my life, I feared trying new things I thought I wouldn’t be good at. Fear of failure. Fear of humiliation.
We learn early in life, even as babies, we can try new things and get bopped in the head for our efforts…see my new grandson demonstrate this:
But, there is no growth, learning or reinvention when we say no to trying new things.
Most new things I tried I did imperfectly during my years of firsts and some I completely flopped. Baking my first cake from scratch? Lopsided. Learning to hula hoop? Pathetically humorous. Completing a "Mud Run?" Slid in last on my team.
Of course, these are small risks that don’t matter much. But they helped me practice imperfection and understand, it’s okay. Not just okay. GOOD!
I had to create my first virtual career fair for 600 students during the pandemic and the first one was awful. It was a first. The second was much better. We dared for a third and reinvented some things. Now it works.
My many first times of imperfection gave me perspective and the understanding that we just needed to keep going and try again.
Few things are perfect anyway. I just had the pleasure of keynoting a PJM leadership event. Their tagline is “Working to perfect the flow of energy.” I like that it acknowledges in some way that nothing is perfect, but we work toward perfection. We work on it.
My students fear creating their first resume and going on their first interview.
My friends fear changing jobs, traveling out of the country and even starting a new relationship. We all fear the unknown—including me.
But when we learn from experience that imperfection is a part of the process of learning, of growing, of challenging ourselves, we are more resilient, more able to pivot, to reinvent.
This week my students have the assignment to turn in their first drafts of their resumes. I tell them all, it’s a first. “Give me your first, ugliest, imperfect draft.” It takes the fear right out, doesn’t it? I will help them perfect their resumes, of course.
Firsts are imperfect. Practice makes us better. Fear keeps us from trying.
Dare on with your imperfect self.