…in my beautiful mistakes.” – P!nk
I never judge a book by its cover.
We, as human beings, love judging books by their covers, and we do so every day. I go to Borders and browse the flashy ones first. I go to the airport gift shop and peruse the magazines with the juiciest gossip. I pick the prettiest cupcake at the bakery, and sometimes Starbucks just feels better than its home-brewed (less-expensive) competition!
Yes, we can be quite critical. This criticism far surpasses our consumer selves, and often seeps into our judgment of people. The tallest individuals are respectable, the really loud ones are insecure, the quiet ones are sweet and on and on. Then we move from criticism of people we see on the street, to celebrities we’ll never meet. We watch glitzy award shows and find ourselves snickering about how so-and-so has really lost her fashion sense. We are glued to The Bachelor while secretly reveling in the cattyness of it all. Remarkably, I can’t count how many times I have heard a friend or colleague say, “I love watching Jersey Shore… it makes me feel so normal!” And while I can’t really argue with that last one, there comes a point where we have to get real about what IS true, and what we really wish was true. This is not so much about stereotyping, but more about our first impressions – our reactions to people who we don’t know, a way to accept or dismiss people without ever really having to understand them.
By the time we hit our twenties, we had better get over these pre-judgments, because the “real” world has no room for them. We eventually come to realize that the short people are equally respectable, that the loud ones just like to talk, that the quiet ones can be mean, too. So, somehow, we let go (or pretend to let go) of these usually ignorant, sometimes amusing judgments.
But here’s the funny thing: we never get over judging ourselves, which is perhaps why the judging of others can be so validating. Usually, I am my biggest critic. This seems to be the norm, especially for 20-somethings, and even more especially for women. This rang true last week, when I was forced to quit something for the first time in my life. Even though I had something better lined up, something that I could be proud of, something that would make me happier in the long run, the daunting feeling of failure still felt like it might fill me with regret. I reasoned that this time, maybe I just couldn’t cut it.
Sound Familiar? For you, it might not be quitting a job. Maybe it’s failing a test, ending a relationship or friendship, blowing an interview, missing a flight, creating a mess, saying too much, getting mad, gaining weight, forgetting something important, regretting something big. Maybe it’s the fact that judging yourself is just plain easier than forgiving yourself the oversight.
This, then, begs the question: can we choose to give ourselves the same slack we have grown to offer others?
Writer Ellen Goodman once noted that we often spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.