Jennifer Bullock, LPC – Need some warming up this winter? Embrace mistakes. With others.

I’m such a failure!

You’re a failure!

Sound familiar? It does to me, especially at this time of year when our New Year’s resolutions are just starting to unravel. And the long, dark stretch of winter can make our loved ones and us frazzled, tired and annoyed at our failings.

Marlène Mocquet, Cadran Alimentaire (detail)
Marlène Mocquet, Cadran Alimentaire (detail)

Perfectionism, harshness, and lack of compassion are very effective at creating walls, and can disconnect us from others and ourselves. Unrealistic expectations can keep us from our humanness: our vulnerability exposed as normal, flawed people. Our desire to appear perfect, and our humiliation over being imperfect prevents us from creating the collective power that comes from sharing and being close.

When we experience this messy life together, we have a shot at going somewhere new. We can’t be in it together if we withhold our flaws and mistakes. So, here’s a warming-up antidote to this unhelpful perfectionism:

Accept, embrace, share our failures.

It’s good for us, our relationships, and for the world.

Sharing our mistakes can be a starting point for love (which is power), radical acceptance, and creativity. This is why I love being a group therapist and practicing Social Therapy, which gives people an opportunity to do therapy collectivity as a team. This type of therapy encourages people to share and give their imperfections away to create power and to help each other develop emotionally. I see it every week in my clients’ faces when they share something they might have never shared before. Being a giver—as well as being seen, heard, accepted—is both very hard and transformative.

It makes me think of a wonderful improv exercise: People yell out, “Yay! WE made a mistake!” whenever someone in the class gets something ‘wrong’. What if our everyday lives at home, at work and in our communities were lived this way? Think about the possibilities!

I, like most of us, am an expert at self-judgment and am seduced by my idealized delusion that I should be/am/can be perfect at all times. In a recent moment of despair over some difficult client situations in my group therapy practice, I felt I had made some mistakes and was privately beating myself up for it, and also (in my head) beating up my clients for not being perfect like me.

I took my own advice and talked about it with a close friend and colleague. In response, he sent me this Zen Koan lesson that made my week:

Student: “What is the key to happiness?”

Zen master: “Good judgment.”

Student: “How do I gain good judgment?”

Zen master: “Experience.”

Student: “How do I get experience?”

Zen master: “Bad judgment.”

So here’s to mistakes, misunderstandings, blunders and bad judgment! Flawed people of the world unite!

And it will be summer soon enough.


Jennifer Bullock, M.Ed., M.L.S.P., LPC | The Philadelphia Social Therapy Group