Forgiving Your Failure

Forgiving your failure

Forgiving Your Failure

I’ve mentioned recently in the blog that I’ve been working on recording the audio version of Intuitive Editing, and that means plunging deeply back into in a book I wrote more than two years ago and focusing on each and every word as I read it.

And guess what, y’all? I’m finding some typos.

Now, you can imagine that as an editor, writing an editing book, I took great care in making sure this baby was as letter-perfect as I could get her. Not only is that my calling card, but it’s a point of personal pride—I started in this business as a copyeditor, and I honed my skills doing that for more than a decade.

Beating Ourselves Up for Our Failings

Let me pause here for an illustrative story starring my mom (they’re usually pretty fun): On the day my most recent novel was published, under my pen name, Phoebe Fox, I sent out a newsletter post to my fiction subscribers sharing a bit about the writing of the book.

At seven a.m. on book-launch day my phone rang—my mom. (Hang on there, friends—this isn’t going where you think it is.)

“Oh, honey, I wanted to call you as soon as I could. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I didn’t want you to hear it from anyone else.”

(At this point, I am understandably a bit panicked. Mom continues.…)

“You have a duplicated word in today’s newsletter.” She goes on to explain where I did indeed double-type a word and hampered a sentence. “I’m so sorry—I knew you’d be mortified if someone pointed it out and you didn’t know.”

But here’s the thing, friends…I wasn’t mortified. In fact I found the whole thing pretty funny—and was also strangely touched by my mom’s well-meaning effort to save me from something that she felt would be embarrassing: a shortcoming in my professional efforts.

I’ve written about wrangling your demons here, here, here, here, here, everywhere!

Now, I am an obsessive perfectionist from a long line of perfectionists, and I wrangle with those damn demons every day. [See sidebar –>] But it broke my heart a bit to hear those family demons from my mom, to the point where an error like that might have indeed mortified her.

What “Failure” Actually Means

Are you squirming a bit in recognition here, authors? I have to confess that I have heard from writers many similar sentiments to the one I heard from my mom, about their mistakes and oversights. Sometimes it’s about typos or grammatical errors, more often about what they perceive as their “failures” and shortcomings in drafts and revisions during our work together.

If this is resonating for you at all…if you have beaten yourself up for falling short of the standard of perfection you may be holding for yourself…I want to tell you what I didn’t tell my mom, and wish I had:

  • Perfection doesn’t exist, and the quest for it strips away our ability to enjoy our efforts to create the best we are capable of, handicaps our growth as artists and as people.
  • When perfection is our standard, any mistake becomes more than simple human error as we stretch and grow our abilities—it becomes a value judgment on who we are, a public flag announcing our inadequacy, and a private flog to beat ourselves with it.
  • It robs us of self-esteem, of our confidence, of righteous pride in our work and our worth, our learning and our growth.
  • Perfection is a hungry goddamned demon whose belly will never be filled as he holds the bar higher…ever higher…always raising it just out of our reach…demanding that we keep jumping high enough to prove our worth.

But here’s the thing, friends—the lesson I remind myself of day after day after day: You have nothing to prove.

You have nothing to prove.

Not to that fucking demon. Not to anyone—even yourself.

For me, I think my perfectionism lies in the insidious unconscious belief that I have to “earn my place” in the world, every single day, and I’m only as good as my last achievement or accomplishment.

And every day, all the time, in every instance when this pervasive little demon (who will be with me always and with whom I must learn to coexist) comes out of his little demon cave to stomp on my psyche, I remind him that I am not my achievements or the work I produce. I do not have to earn my ticket to ride. I am my ticket.

And mistakes, shortcomings, oversights, and even failures aren’t indicative of my worth. In fact they are all part of my glorious growth—which isn’t possible without them.

As I read Intuitive Editing aloud—my baby, my pride and joy, my life’s work to this point—I’m also finding some areas of the text where my thinking has continued to evolve: theories and ideas I developed and honed for years, and took great care to articulate as well and clearly as I could as I was writing this passion project of mine. Things I wish I could tweak or update or elaborate upon now.

This is how I visualize all my demons. I mean, how can you take this mischievous little guy too seriously?

But when that demon pops his little red head out of the cave, I just remind him—and myself—how marvelous it is that I continue to grow and evolve in my work…and gently send him back inside.

If you share this perfectionism demon, friends—or any other demons that trample your self-image—I’d love to share a few books that I’ve found transformative: Compassion and Self-hate by Theodore Rubin, M.D., quite literally changed my life. Feeling Good by David Burns (along with a very gifted cognitive behavioral therapist) quite literally have helped change my thinking in these negative spirals. And Self-Compassion by Dr. Kristin Neff helps me continue to learn to manage the demons.

12 Comments. Leave new

  • WOAH!!!! What an absolutely fantastic post!

    Thank you so much for sharing, this is superb, you’re showing how you’ve grown and are accepting.

    I love the bit about – “I am my ticket”

    Yep, we gotta own ourselves 🙂

    Thanks again for your inspirational posts, they really make my day x

  • Maria Bogen Oskwarek
    January 27, 2022 2:45 pm

    Thank you for yet another deeply incisive post. It’s alarming how quickly self-judgment can morph into self-loathing. I find myself battling that two-headed monster daily with all the positive self-talking I can muster. (Even as I write this I’m thinking, “there are too many hyphenated words here!”) Perfectionism be damned. I’m appropriating “I am my ticket” as my new mantra!

    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      January 27, 2022 5:31 pm

      Yay! I’m glad it helped–“I am my ticket” was lifted right out of the Theodore Rubin book I mentioned in the post. I know those damned demons well. Hope yours go back into their cave soon. <3

  • This perfectionist drive, I feel, is in most writers and how easily we bang ourselves down with the hammer of defeat when faced with our perceived or admitted failures.
    THANK YOU for pointing out your own mistakes and giving us permission to forgive ourselves and move forward, with pride and optimism. The best thing we can give ourselves is Grace.

    Great great article and the timing, for me, is fortuitous. :))

    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      January 27, 2022 6:27 pm

      Thanks for sharing yours too, Kay–and that goes for all the commenters. To me hearing other people also wrangle with similar demons really normalizes these feelings, and makes me feel less “broken” when I have them to know how common they are–how we all grapple with things like this. I love that you use the word “grace”–in the Rubin book I mentioned he talks about living in a state of grace with yourself, and I find that powerful. I’m glad this was good timing for you! Thanks for letting me know.

  • Marielena Zuniga
    January 27, 2022 7:29 pm

    I’ve always struggled with that big “”P on my chest (also “R” for responsibility). As a retired journalist, accuracy (read perfection) was my middle name. I still cringe when I see a typo. An affliction. But I’ve also come to realize, after years of self-growth, that our imperfections are beautiful. Unique. They make us who we are. As Brene Brown wrote: “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” Thanks, Tiffany, for sharing this. Great post. (And I loved the little devil on Underwood Deviled Ham! A good visual to remind me to laugh when the big “P” kicks in.)

    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      January 27, 2022 11:03 pm

      Oh, Brene Brown–that woman knows a thing or two about self-acceptance and letting go of unhealthy demands on ourselves! Thanks for sharing this, Marielena. Isn’t it comforting to know how many of us torture ourselves this way? 😀 And yeah, it seems silly, but truly, picturing those little red ham devils takes a lot of the “scary” and the sting out of my demons–and lets me even love them a little. Poor silly ham demons–they’re only trying to protect me…. 🙂

  • Leah St. James
    January 27, 2022 8:38 pm

    Oh my gosh…I feel like you wrote this for me. I recently released a print version of a book and later found out (from a good friend) there were formatting errors. I remember a freezing sensation starting at my chest and working all the way to the ends of my fingers and toes. Mortified doesn’t begin to cover it. I lost sleep for a couple nights over it. Aside from the embarrassment of the errors themselves, I felt so bad that people had purchased a less-than-perfect book. I think my friend felt just as bad for having to give me the bad news! Your insights are so helpful. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts and encouragement.

    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      January 27, 2022 11:06 pm

      Oh, Leah, that’s such a terrible feeling! I’m so sorry. It’s funny that when you say it, my initial impulse is to reassure you how human and minor that is–and fixable–and that you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it…when I actually beat myself up over a couple of the errors in Intuitive Editing. We’re not quite so compassionate when it’s our own mistakes, are we? Thanks for sharing this, and for your kind words.

  • I’ve read Intuitive Editing twice, and some sections several times, and often refer back to it during the revision process. I didn’t remember any typos or errors, but usually, when I see them in a published book I figure it was a printing error, not the error of the author, and move on.

    I loved the part about knowing the demon is there and always will be, and that you must find a way to coexist with it. I’ve been experiencing self-doubt lately about my writing, and instead of trying to ignore it, I acknowledge it fully. I recognize it for what it is and just say to myself, hey, this is just that annoying self-doubt again. Hi, Doubt! The more aware I am of its presence, the less impact it has. It will always show up sometime, so I may as well figure out a way to coexist with it.

    Oh, and before I reply to your posts? I am always super scared there’ll be a typo or a glaring grammatical error in my reply because I know you are a pro editor and a flaw like that would embarrass me. Full disclosure. 🙂

    • Tiffany Yates Martin
      January 29, 2022 2:37 am

      Let’s go with printing error, then, shall we? And that makes me feel better–I read it however many countless times and missed some of them, obviously. (But like you, I don’t worry too much about them in other books either. I copyedited for too long not to know how often human error slips by a surprising number of eyeballs on a manuscript.)

      It is kind of crazy how simply acknowledging those demons, rather than fighting or suppressing or denying them, makes a move toward taming them, isn’t it? I do try to befriend them, to think of them as unruly little kids, full of fear–it lets me “be the adult” and soothe them (and myself).

      And I wish I could say you’re the first person to tell me they worry about written correspondence with me, as an editor…but sadly the friends who have told me they proof their texts and emails to me multiple times are legion…. 😀 I don’t even notice those, though–I figure we’re all typing at warp speed. Thanks for your comment, Cate–as always!


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