When I Grow Up

There ARE “Do Overs” in Life

We live in a world that tells us that we should work harder, be better, be stronger; that success, perfection even, is within our reach. We receive messages: “Do it right the first time.” “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” “There are no ‘do overs’ in life.”

These are all good advice and things to keep in mind, but not words to live by. Yes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, however, if you don’t, then all is not lost. From my own experience, I can say that my first impression is not always a clear view of the truth. I have many examples in my life that prove this, with regards to people, places and even things as basic as foods. If I relied on only first impressions, my life would be much less interesting.

The other thing about first impressions is that they are subjective. We all fall back on our past experiences to relate to our new ones. Things that are similar are not necessarily the same. We also sometimes see what we want to see. Truth is elusive.

Yes, we should try to do things right the first time. It just makes sense so that you don’t have to do things over again. However, sometimes we make mistakes and things go wrong. That doesn’t mean we throw our hands in the air and give up. We should try to do our best. Our best is not always the best. We all have unique talents and abilities that only sometimes overlap.

There are, in fact, many “do overs” in life. While we cannot undo things, we can try again and make them right. For the big things in life, (such as getting married and making large purchases such as a house, or taking a job that requires moving a distance, especially if it affects others) we should carefully consider and plan our course of action. But, for most things, we can do them over. If we don’t like the color we painted the living room, we can repaint it; if we add too much spice to the sauce, we can make other adjustments to change it or remember to use less next time.

Yes, doing things over is inconvenient, or takes more time, usually double the time of doing it once. But that doesn’t mean the time is wasted. In most cases, we will have learned a lesson. If we forget to pack something needed for a trip, we have choices – to do without, borrow or buy new. Next time we will likely remember that item.

When I was young and agonizing over whether or not to do something, I was told to answer a question: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” In most cases, the worst-case scenario was not really that bad and the risk outweighed the benefit. I have always had an exaggerated sense of fairness, an almost pathological compulsion “to do the right thing.” Obviously, this affects the decision-making process. Weighing the risks/benefits makes it a little easier, but for the most part, I have learned to force myself to “just do it.” After all, what’s the worst that can happen? And, if I am unhappy with my decision, most things aren’t permanent (even a hair “permanent” grows out eventually).

I have seen too many people so paralyzed by fear of failure that they fail to act. They are so concerned with “getting it right” that they never get it done at all. Others wallow in despair at failure, instead of getting up, yelling “Do over!” and starting again.

I am starting to think that some of the epidemic of anxiety and depression I see in society may be caused by over-expectations. As a society, we expect a lot – of everyone, at all times. We are also rather unforgiving of failure. Too often I hear the sentiment that bad things happen to people for a reason, that the individual is always responsible for his or her bad fortune. Some people can’t seem to accept that, sometimes, bad things just happen. People lose jobs, people die, natural disasters occur. Yes, sometimes we can plan for and avoid these, but sometimes we cannot. Although all successful people have experienced failure, it is not something we talk about. We celebrate success, idolize it even. Our failures are largely hidden and not talked about or even acknowledged.

I used to work with high school kids, honors students. I watched many of them struggle to get words on paper, not because they didn’t know how to write, but because they were afraid of being wrong. For some of these kids, the most terrifying assignments were those in which they were asked to give an opinion. They struggled with the concept that there was no right or wrong answer. I am seeing the same thing in the larger society today. Opinions are too frequently stated as facts. People have a need to be “right.” Compromise and tolerance are becoming rare.

One thing I have learned in life is that things change. Situations change. Attitudes change. Perspectives change. We should measure not how often we fail but how we handle it and what we learn from it. We need to go easier on each other and ourselves. Sometimes, we just need a “do over.”