Back when I was in college, I really wanted to learn to speak Spanish. I knew the grammar, I could understand written Spanish fairly well, give me a pen and paper test and I would ace it. The problem was, I couldn’t speak it worth a snot. In fact, I couldn’t really understand it when others spoke it, either. So, what’s a monolingual to do?
My school had a 5-week exchange program with a university in Mexico, so, of course, I was all over that. And it helped. After 5 weeks of not-quite-immersion (there were 10 or so of us, and we had a lot of fun together—but, um, that’s a story for another post) I could at last understand, but the speaking was still coming slowly to me. So what’s a monolingual to do?
My university did not have a semester-long or year-long program in place for study abroad (at least for Spanish students), but my adviser was the department head, so he let me wing it, and told me not to worry about getting approval for the credits. So I decided on a city, found a language school that offered home-stay, and I was off on my great adventure.
And I learned Spanish. The thing I noticed pretty quickly was that if I ever made a mistake in conversation and was corrected, I never made that mistake again. (At the same time, I could say something correctly on my own a number of times, and later say it wrong.) I can still remember several instances in which I suffered great embarrassment (granted, it doesn’t take much to embarrass me) due to some slip of the tongue, or not knowing a word, or using a word incorrectly—but the correction has stuck with me, while the embarrassment hasn’t.
I was thinking about this today as I was noticing how much I’ve learned in the last couple of months about my job. I wasn’t really trained that well (“trained by wolves” is the phrase that was used, I believe), and it’s only been very recently that some important pieces (of paperwork or procedures) have slipped into place. A few weeks ago, a couple of my files were audited by my boss’s boss, and it was an, um, enlightening experience. I won’t say that I’ll never mess up a file again, but getting marked down on a number of things pushed me up the learning curve in a way few other things could have done.
I have spent so much of my life trying to avoid outing myself as a person who makes mistakes. A big part of my learning the last couple of years (and a big part of why Mr. X and I fell apart) has been about accepting myself, not holding myself in such a tight grip, being okay with my imperfection.
And the lessons have started to stick.
I’ve had to allow myself to be the person who doesn’t have her shit together, (frankly because I had no choice, I really didn’t have my shit together) in order to learn that the world does not fall apart if I gain fifty pounds, or don’t do a stellar job at work, or don’t exercise for months, or don’t call anybody back, or spend every free moment watching television, etc. (I could go on, but I think that will do.) I don’t think I would have ever learned that lesson, however, if I hadn’t had to, if I hadn’t been a complete mess for longer than was very fashionable. As someone who has always scrutinized herself for any shred of unacceptability, any smidge or smudge that could lead me to be criticized (my own personal hell), this feels like the journey to freedom, though I know there are still miles to go before I sleep.
The biggest mistake I can think of in my life has been choosing to be in a relationship with Mr. X. No, the way he treated me was not my fault, but there were some pretty major red flags pretty early in our relationship, and I never enforced appropriate boundaries with him. He is responsible for his piece, and I am responsible for mine, and my piece is that I got into a serious relationship with, and later married, someone who did not accept me for me, someone who did not respect my boundaries, and someone who made his love conditional on my living up to his fantasies of the perfect partner.
And I don’t think I would have learned how much more I deserve, nor how much I want to change the patterns of my past if the ending hadn’t been so spectacularly bad, if I hadn’t been through the pain of knowing that when it came to choosing my partner, I chose very poorly.
But now I’ve learned, and am learning how much I deserve, and I’m learning to change those patterns of self-preservation that have turned into patterns of self-destruction, and I’m learning to nurture myself as I never have been before.
And I’m learning that screwing up teaches me so much more than making the honor roll.