In my last years as a professor, I saw something clearly: we give students little space to make mistakes; to mess things up in a safe environment; to experiment, fail, and try again. And now, away from academia, I still see this pattern. We don't often come as we are, we come as we think we should be.
- "I can't start a new project until I'm an expert."
- "I shouldn't dance, because I'll look silly."
- "I can't share my difficulties, because I'll look weak."
- "I shouldn't dream, because I might fail."
I know this place well. I lost swaths of my life trying to be perfect; to always appear smart, put-together, happy, knowledgeable, and flawless. I gained back my life when I showed up as-is. When I'm real and vulnerable, I'm more connected to others and more effective in my work. I still prepare. I'm still dependable and thoughtful. But I no longer try to be perfect. Instead, I try to be more present.
The reality is we're all flawed and we're all beautiful. When we accept this about ourselves and others, we create community: safe spaces to stretch, share, and grow. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our easy successes. It's brave to acknowledge our weak spots, ask questions, and "not know." Instead of generating fear and blame, we cultivate acceptance and curiosity. It's courageous to be that vulnerable and real. Though it feels scary, this is a path to freedom. A path that can be walked one small, brave step at a time.