How many times in life have you gotten frustrated with yourself for not doing something perfectly? I experience this frustration with myself more times than I could possibly count. As much as I encourage others to have grace and a growth mindset for themselves, I struggle extending this same gift to myself.
In this season with many new experiences, our kids have shared how frustrated they feel when they don’t know how to do something “right.” Like middle school developmental psychology suggests, when kids enter their preteen and teen years, they can feel like an invisible spotlight is shining directly on them, and no one else. They mistakenly believe that everyone sees all of their flaws magnified and no one else’s. As an adult, I wonder how many of us in our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond still feel this way sometimes?
Whether it is learning a new method for completing their school work, keeping up with learning memory verses for church, or figuring out how to play new sports when many of your peers have been playing for years–the same frustration of feeling behind everyone else permeated every facet of our lives. We were frustrated with ourselves for not knowing what appeared to be the invisible secret for success that everyone else seemed to know.
Anytime we experience something new whether it be a new school, church, sport, or hobby, there are going to be moments where others seem to know what to do, and we feel like we are slowly trailing behind. Partly I think this is because our culture races instead of walks. We plunge straight into the deep end instead of taking our time acclimating in the shallow end. We prize the end goal of success more than the process of growing.
A few months ago, Jennifer Rothschild interviewed Shauna Niequist, author of I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, on her 4:13 podcast. I read Shauna’s book Present Over Perfect about five years ago, so I was eager to hear how her message from this book had evolved into this next season of her life. In Present Over Perfect, Shauna realized that all of her striving didn’t amount to added blessings. Striving amounted to extra stress. She learned how to be more present with her family and friends by ending the constant hamster loop cycle of chasing perfection.
Every part of life felt brand new.
In her latest book, Shauna describes her family of four’s journey of moving from their suburban Midwest town to New York City. She looked forward to this once in a lifetime experience of living in a big city, so that her husband could continue his education. To prepare for the move, they focused mostly on the adventure their family could experience. More than just moving from a large home to a tiny apartment, Shauna shared how every single aspect of their lives changed. They experienced new schools, churches, grocery stories, and rhythms for daily life. Even the daily routine of walking everywhere instead of driving their cars and allowing her children to walk to their schools on their own, made daily life drastically different from their former life in the Midwest.
Shauna shared that her family continued to experience frustration for not learning how to do their new big city life well from the start. They expected a smooth transition full of new adventures. They didn’t anticipate how even the most simple activities would feel foreign to them.
Once she noticed this continued frustration from her family members from not knowing all of the “ins and outs” of big city life, she and her husband realized they needed a new family mantra. They needed a “go to” phrase to help stop the cycle of frustration and extend grace to themselves. Instead of saying, “Ugh. Why don’t I know how to do this already?” They came up with the phrase, “I guess I haven’t learned that yet.”
Although the first few times she reminded her children that “they hadn’t learned ____ yet”, they skeptically questioned how this simple phrase could be helpful?
(Parents raising preteens and teenagers: my hunch is that we can relate to this skepticism as our children might also be hesitant to try our new strategies. My kids are starting to say, “Mom what book did you learn that idea from?”)
The more that Shauna wove this catch phrase into their daily life, the more she noticed that their family’s overall stress and frustration levels decreased. Her family started having more grace for themselves and extending grace to each other through the process.
As soon as I heard her share their journey, I realized I finally had words to process what our family has been experiencing the last 7 months. Although we didn’t relocate to a big city, we did change literally everything about our daily lives.
Even good change is still change.
Our family also needed to figure out a way to process all of the new and move forward together in healthy ways. I was a bit skeptical, too, wondering if this phrase would make a difference, but I was open to seeing if it might help us, too. So, I thought, “Why not try out Shauna’s phrase? Maybe it could help stop the spiral of frustration when we make mistakes, because we didn’t know any differently, yet.”
After three months of using this phrase, I am seeing our family start to change. When Juliana made a mistake on a math problem, instead of mentally beating herself up about it, when I said, “It’s okay. You just hadn’t learned it that way yet.” I heard her reply, “You’re right Mom. Now I know how to do it the new way. I’ve got this.”
Or when Mackenzie took a brave step to enroll in a new acro class, she worried about how it might be different from what she was used to in cheerleading tumbling. She also embraced the phrase and added “This is different, but it’s not a “bad” difference. I just hadn’t learned to strengthen both my left and right side front limbers. If I keep practicing, I can learn this.”
This reminder of “I guess I haven’t learned that yet” has become more than a catch phrase for us. Through intentionally stopping our frustrational thoughts, we are learning that new skills won’t necessarily be easy, but we can keep learning. We are settling into the growing season and increasing our confidence that we can adapt and change with new activities and rhythms. Just because it’s different doesn’t make it bad. Just because we aren’t proficient at new things the first couple of tries, doesn’t mean that we are failures.
If anything, my hunch is this life lesson will be one that carries our family into many seasons of life in the future. The one thing we can count on from one season to the next is life is constantly changing. There aren’t many seasons where things stay exactly the same. I pray that this season helps our family continue to be brave as we try new things knowing that it’s okay to not be proficient the first couple of times. Jo Boaler, an expert mathematician at Stanford University, found that the beauty in making mistakes is that when you work through the mistake, your brain will remember the process much more effectively than if you never made the mistake to begin with.
Friend, I wonder which areas you find yourself or your kids struggling with not doing things perfectly the first time? In what ways might this phrase “I guess haven’t learned that yet” to be life-giving for you to try out? What other strategies have you tried to help take the pressure off when trying new things?
I’m cheering for you and your children as we embrace new things and recognize the beauty in taking off the pressure to be perfect. Let’s lovingly remind each other that it’s okay to admit “we guess we haven’t learned that yet.”