getting schooled

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.


9 responses to “getting schooled

  1. screwing up teaches me so much more than making the honor roll

    Amen to that! You know, having learned that lesson now will serve you well when you eventually become a mom. One of the hardest things to do is to let your children make their own mistakes so they can learn. You’ll have a head start on being able to do that.

    BTW, I am so glad you realize how much you deserve because my friend, I think you deserve the world.

  2. Oh yeah Lady, screwing up is a sucky experience, but you sure learn a lot.

    Also I wanted to point out that Mr. X is a mistake that you pressed ‘Undo’ on….and I love to make mistakes that can be corrected!

  3. Wow. Your former self sounds so much like me it’s creepy. I have to be perfect, and do everything just right because…..fill in the blank. Someone might think badly of me, make fun of me, be angry with me, etc. Wow.

  4. Yay you! You have made so much progress lately. And, dare I say it, you are starting to sound….content? Even, happy?

    I wish that, and all the best that life has to offer, for you.

    Many hugs,

  5. This is all so true. I may have to come back and read this daily for a while.

  6. I can really relate to learning from mistakes. It took brings my attention up to a whole new level; however, it has had its disadvantages too. The backlash, though, came in blaming myself — have you ever noticed that with blame comes punishment?! I just wrote a book on making mistakes in relationships, based mainly on my experiences as a twice divorced woman scared to go back in the dating scene (Of Frogs and Princes: Reflections on Relating, Dating and Mating for Women Who Have Been There Before). Let us be kind to ourselves.

  7. rosesdaughter

    Screwing up does teach us sooo much more! But what’s a person to do when they do everything to avoid screwing up? I live with this issue almost daily.

  8. Trying to do everything to avoid screwing up is like trying not to think of the elephant in the middle of the living room. So you screw up once in a while….We all get to be human.

  9. What a powerful post! Touched me deeply and had me nodding half of the time. A big “thank you” for your last sentence…

    I ignored a ton of red flags too with my abusive ex – which nowadays leads to the other extreme: when meeting a man I see red flags galore. Even where there are none. Seems like I have to find a middle-way. And… yes… being ok with my imperfection and liking me for it. Sigh…

    Oh, and I know all about embarrassment when learning a language. English isn’t my native and sometimes I still struggle for words (especially when we’re talking sensitive issues). Problem is: I learned other languages through english, which makes for a good mess in my head.

    One time I wanted to say – in spanish – that I’m embarrassed. And my mind chose tho easiest way and formed an “Estoy embarazado” – which totally sounded right. Perfect confusion of everybody and the best way to remember…

    Before I start writing a book, I’ll stop now.

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