Growing up in an Asian immigrant family, I grew up constantly striving for perfection. I believed my worth was derived from perfect performance.
I followed the perfect path. I went to an elite private high-school, Georgetown for college (well, I guess not so perfect, since I didn’t go to Harvard), joined Deloitte Consulting out of college, married in my twenties (of course my goal had been to be married before 30), had 2 beautiful children and became a Senior Manager at a Fortune 500 Company.
If perfection was salvation than failure was death.
So I thought, until I failed..a lot.
Failure #1: Parenting
I have friends who wanted to have children from when they were children themselves. I was never that kind of person. I honestly didn’t understand the allure of children, but having kids was part of the perfect story I was trying to create for my life. I would be the perfect parent. Take a few classes, discipline them when necessary, feed them and I’d have perfect children that fit in with my perfect life.
Fast forward several years, as my son and I are out and about. He’s not listening and I drop the bomb of “no screen time for today.” I spend the next 20 minutes trying to physically restrain him as he bites, punches and kicks me, all the while calling me all kinds of names. People stare in shock, mouths are wide-open.
This was not part of the picture-perfect story I wanted to show the world. This is not the image you put on a Christmas card.
During this incident, all I could think was: How have I failed as I parent?
I’ve read every parenting book out there, taken many parenting classes, seen therapists and experts…What have I done wrong?
Most people would say this was an epic parenting failure, but it turned into a beautiful blessing.
This failure woke me up. It made me realize I needed to change my parenting approach. My son is a great, adorable, high-energy kid. He was doing something he thought would work for him, based on previous experience. My job as the parent was to teach him that kind of behavior would no longer work for him. You hear how you need to be consistent, follow-through and keep your word, but when something like this happens it becomes slap-in-the-face clear.
Are things perfect now?
No. Perfection is an allusion.
But, I feel empowered in my parenting and am enjoying a deeper connection to my son more and more.
Progress over perfection.
Another result of parenting failure is a deeper peace as I concern myself more with meeting the needs of my children and myself over presenting a false image to others.
Failure #2: Money
“I’m bad with money” was what I told myself throughout my life. Part of curating my image of perfection was ensuring I had the nicest handbag and clothing amongst my circle of friends. I thought the American Dream was about efforting for the nicest home, car and stuff money could buy.
The problem was no matter how much money I made I could never fully fund the lifestyle I was trying to present. While I was younger I figured I just needed to make more money. I would get serious once I settled down.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I was making six-figures, but found myself completely overwhelmed and stressed about our financial situation. Every night I looked at my bank statement, hoping our budget would magically self-correct.
What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I control this area of my life? What if others knew?
Feelings of shame and self-loathing would keep me awake every night. It got to the point where I worried if we would lose our home and need to move in with our family. What an epic failure that would be.
Then I got sick. Sick of living with worry, stress and overwhelm to create a false image of who we were. I wanted out and I wanted to be free. This failure motivated me to transform my mindset about money and to care more about using my money for life-giving experiences than what people think. This failure launched me to change my life and became the passion that is my financial wellness business today.
Failure #3: Friendship
Having a dysfunctional family, I traveled a lot as a child. I had friends, but had an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. When I was single, friends seemed to come and go and I often took them for granted.
By the time I was married with children, I found myself isolated and lonely.I had few close friends in my area. I had “friends,” but very few people with whom I felt genuine connection. I felt pangs in my heart as I saw “friends” on Facebook posting pictures of all the fun they were having with each other and I’d wonder why I wasn’t invited to join them. I told myself:
You’re not the type of person people want to be friends with. You’re too needy, too intense, too sensitive.
I feared growing close to people because I was afraid of being hurt and disappointed by them. There was a friend whom I had a genuine connection with. We hung out for a while, but I found something that bothered me about her. It was nothing major, but I allowed it to be significant enough to be a deal breaker in our friendship.
For years, I regretted the way I let the friendship end. I wondered if I had accepted her for who she was and had taken down my shields, what the friendship could have become.
Again, this failure forced me to shift my focus. Instead of worrying about how people weren’t being a good friend to me, how could I be a good friend to others? How could I love people without worrying about the outcome?
If it’s meant to be, God, life and people give us second chances.
My friend and I reconnected and she is one of my best friends and a truth teller in my life.
Failure has become the great teacher in my life.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
What have failures taught you?