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It was the first day of the new school year at our house today, so things have been awkward. We're all trying out new routines, and the kids are meeting new teachers and feeling out new classmates and virtual school. But the first day went pretty well, with advance preparation and low expectations.

I hope all is well with you, and whatever new adventures September brings are going smoothly. Today's essay is about why it's sometimes okay when things don't go smoothly — when mistakes are part of the process.

With love,
A green frog with a white belly shelters from the rain under a large leaf.

When Mistakes are Part of the Process

In her book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD, Susan Pinsky urges her readers to "reduce inventory"; that is, to get rid of things. She says that sometimes you'll get rid of something that you turned out to need, and have to rebuy it, but that the cost of doing that is far less, in the long run, than the various financial and cognitive costs of owning stuff that doesn't serve you. In fact, she says, needing to re-buy the odd thing is a sign that you're getting rid of enough — if you never needed to do that, it would mean you were holding on to far too much stuff.

People who design playgrounds with the best interests of children in mind know that it's possible to design a playground that's too safe. Children need to test theories about the world and about their abilities by taking risks, and a playground that protects every child from injury, no matter how bold or foolhardy, will not provide the possibilities for challenge and risk that every child needs. A playground where some kids sometimes get hurt is a playground that's functioning as it should.

Musicians don't even talk about a live performance without mistakes — they just don't happen. Any musical performance has so many moving parts that it's impossible to get through more than a few minutes without straying from "perfection". A mistake-free performance could only happen if it were so unambitious as to be, frankly, boring.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I dealt with a failed attempt to get a certification.  I said, "I'm choosy about where I spend my energy and attention. ... Things like certifications, assessments, and exams get exactly as much effort as I think they require, and no more. A policy like that is bound to result in the odd failure, mathematically."

Any complex system that is working at the edge of what's possible will sometimes fail — it's simply mathematics. Whether it's playing music, or just playing; managing the amount of stuff you own, or managing your energy — sometimes things will go wrong. Things going wrong isn't always a sign of poor design or mismanagement; on the contrary, it can be a sign that the system is working exactly as it should.

This idea can be a diagnostic tool. Is there an area in your life where you are trying to improve? When's the last time you had a screw-up in that area? Are you comfortable with that, or could you push yourself harder or try something different?

It's important, though, to keep a balanced portfolio in life — multiple relationships, multiple interests, multiple income streams if you can manage it. That way, when things go sideways in one arena you can find strength in the others. And not everything has to be on the bleeding edge of growth and experimentation: maybe when no-one signs up for your new workshop you can bake a batch of those muffins that never fail and share them with an old friend who always says the right thing.

What's NewThinking about all the cool stuff I'm doing, wearing a grey blazer and sky blue top

Not much is new, not gonna lie! I've been trying to write (or take notes and do research) every morning, for some value of "every", and that's going pretty well. School has started, my cat is dying, the pandemic is getting a new head of steam — things are busy here, as I'm sure they are there.

I'm watching my coach-school classmates and other peers run workshops and do aggressive social-media marketing, and wondering if I should be doing the same. Is that quiet voice saying, "Wait," my intuition, or my inner critic? Is it wisdom or fear? I don't know... Watch this space and I guess we'll find out together.

Fun and Interesting

  • Because if the job is to sell as much oil as you possibly can, any amount of recycled plastic is competition. I kind of thought we already knew that plastic recycling is fake, but I guess maybe we just strongly suspected it? Anyway, it turns out plastic recycling is elaborate sustainability theatre promoted by the oil and plastics industries. Depressing! How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled []
  • The horrors of the real world are enough to make a person seek the safety of childhood by any means, including linguistic ones. Linguist John McWhorter writes about the adorable trend towards childish language. Why Grown-Ups Keep Talking Like Little Kids []
  • Whatever problem you decide to solve, give Future You your very best. Winter isn't my best season, mental-health wise, at the best of times, and this winter promises to be particularly difficult. However, forewarned is forearmed. After six months of pandemic living, we know a lot more than we did last February. This Vice article offers some solid tips on how to prepare. If You’re Already Dreading Winter, Here Are Some Small Ways to Prepare Now []
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Thank you for reading this far!

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Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching
Copyright © 2020 Amy Rhoda Brown Coaching, All rights reserved.

I live and work on land which for thousands of years has been part of the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Huron-Wendat. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island, and I am glad to be able to live and work here.

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