I have made mistakes in my life: gaffed, erred, blundered, goofed up, failed brilliantly. It has been said that the path of failure leads the way to learning and innovation. I certainly hold this to be true. The relatively sane among us understand that repeating an erroneous method over and again in exactly the same way but expecting different results is … as Albert says … insanity. Typically, I’ll make a decision that turns out to be wrong and will learn from it. The operative phrase here: “I’ll make a decision”.
Tell me that fire is hot but not until I’m burned will I believe
Many of the miscalculations in my life could easily have been avoided. Not through forethought nor deep insight. They could have been avoided by asking, by involving others, by reaching out for opinions and guidance. Yet as far back as I can remember, I have moved in isolation. Even as a small child, I was considered stubborn thanks to the fact that I had to do it myself. But I wasn’t stubborn.
I just didn’t want to be wrong
When we take the risk to be wrong, to screw-up, we expose our soft underbelly of vulnerability, we open ourselves to ridicule, mockery, and perhaps even contempt. I was having none of that. Early on, I developed a persona as the quiet one; as the introspective smart kid who always had the answer – who knew everything. However, the fact was that I didn’t know everything (of course!). But I was running a pretty convincing game.
I would listen quietly. When I was absolutely certain I had the answer, my authority was unchallenged (it’s all in the delivery). Without that absolute certainty, I stayed my voice and found some way to redirect the conversation or, simply, didn’t answer (and being the quiet one, this was not considered out of character). However, I would take the most immediate opportunity to learn so I would never be in that situation again. The next time that question came up? I would know.
This would have made sense were I doing it for the right reasons. If I were learning purely to grow and innovate, that would be honest. But my motivations were skewed and were, ultimately, for self-preservation and, I sadly realize, protection. Aloof silence became a shield for my vulnerability.
I built up quite a reputation for being there for people. “Ask Tobey – she’ll know”. I was the go-to person who knew stuff. I helped people sell, move, build, study … I was there. And I love to give, to help, and to esteem. But I never asked for anything. Asking for help exposes weakness and invites judgment. Herein lies the rub. If you continually rebuff offers of assistance, the offers stop.
Then I got a wake-up call
I was napping on my couch when my phone rang on the evening of Tuesday, October 1, 2002. It was my brother, telling me that our Mother had suffered a stroke and she was at her local hospital. I asked, “In the ICU?” He replied, “No. In the morgue.”
I immediately called my best friend since childhood. Throughout the following days, I came to understand the importance of ‘needing’.
This was my tipping point. It was during this time that I realized I could no longer move in isolation and that I need people as much as they need me. I acknowledged that I was being selfish and robbing the people who care about me of the joyful feeling I experience when I’m moved to help them.
Trusting others to have your best interests at heart can seem an abyss-leap. Opening yourself up to judgment can be paralyzing. They may not love your idea – they may tell you it’s just plain dumb. If they love you and care for you, they are giving you the best gift by saving you from yourself. It can be a hard row to hoe if you’ve spent a lifetime safeguarding your ego but, when you take advantage of the collection of wonderful minds out there, the shield can come down.
The next time your ego pulls you to resist asking for directions, help with a project, or insight into a dilemma – fight the urge to ‘do it yourself’. By asking for assistance, direction, advice, or input, you are esteeming the other person and making them a stalwart member of your team.
The greatest assets in your life are the people who aren’t afraid to tell you:
“You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” – Douglas Adams
Do you cherish your assets?