Love thyself – you’re human

by Alan Cyment

Error. I hate it. It is cruel because it proves I am not perfect. It is baffling because it makes it obvious that I am not unparalleled. Previous triumphs forge expectations. No one expects me to fail. Then I succeed again and the sword of Damocles sharpens. One more time.

Until one day I fail to fulfill soaring demands for perfection. Maybe I miscalculate the details of a plan. Perhaps I am asked a question for which I have no precise answer. Perchance I read disappointment on a colleague’s expression. Or I simply realize I have just arrived in Mumbai having left my credit card at home.

At that point the guillotine raises slowly. Retribution is around the corner. Cold fear runs over my spine. There is simply no place to hide from guilt. Repentance is useless. I am and will ever be asinine. Time for the usual scheme: I conceal the mistake, like I did when I was an infant. Pretend nothing has happened, as the stench of sin begins to surface.

And yet someone might find out about the error. Life goes on, but with increased angst. And thus a crippling vicious circle perpetuates. Terror of failure spirals, making it harder to act freely. Excellence and creativity plummet. Pleasure and verve die out. Degrees of freedom to act plunge. A gloomy and yet recurrent tale for many a knowledge worker.

You are a knowledge worker because your métier involves solving convoluted problems. This means your craft entails creativity, deduction and interpretation. Software applications, marketing plans and financial planning are immensely complex endeavours. Punishing imperfect incarnations of such tools is not just naive, but also cruelly hypocritical. Lacerate your soul for your lack of perfection and learn to survive in a world of penance.

Somehow there must be a way out of this tail biting. Stop. Breath. Think for a moment. Meditate on how others do their creative jobs. Ponder over the way in which a theatre play is created. Picture a Romeo and Juliet production. Rehearsals will begin in a week. Romeo has been brushing his teeth trying to portray Romeo. Juliet has taken showers the way Juliet would do it. And now it is time for the whole ensemble to get together and do the first improvisation. “Romeo meets Juliet at the bus stop.” The scene lasts for a couple of minutes. And just like all opening rehearsals for the past two and a half millennia this one goes wrong. Neither the play director nor the actors like the performance. Romeo was not romantic enough when talking to Juliet. Juliet’s movements around the stage were somehow graceless. There was no clear bond between the actors. And yet they celebrate failure. Because erring is the only way to reach a creative result, they have just taken the first step towards a marvelous play.

Error enables us to simplify a seemingly impenetrable challenge. The universe of potential solutions is axed when failure occurs. And something deeper occurs: a sliver of the final outcome is born. Maybe the way Romeo walked during the improvisation was captivating. Perhaps Juliet’s tone of voice was as sultry as expected from her. The resulting characters will have these traits. The staged play is now nearer. Out of failed interpretation comes not just learning, but also a piece of the resulting product. Celebrate error: it’s your only way out of sheer chaos.