When I was a junior in high school, I forgot about a major physics project until the night before it was due. I remember the feeling of my heart sinking when I realized that at 9 PM on a Sunday night, I had absolutely no chance of getting the project done before school started the next day. I remember the panic running like ice through my veins.
I went to my bedroom, pulled out my notes and tried to think of some way to pull off a magic trick and complete a project that required several hours of work in just one. I tried to hide the frenzy and the panic from my parents. After 20 minutes or so, though, I knew there was going to be no magic. I broke down into sobs.
I told my dad what was going on. My dad’s a logical guy – and a physics and math teacher – so his first reaction was to ask if there was any way he could help me to get it done. That ship had sailed, and when I explained what needed to be done, he could see that. My dad is, himself, a world-class procrastinator – but when it comes to schoolwork, he would have normally scolded me for missing an assignment. But when faced with his sobbing 16 year old daughter, it was clear that I didn’t need scolding. So he said, very calmly, “Breathe. What’s the worst that could happen?”
His reaction was like a weight lifting from my chest.
You might be assuming that the point to this little story is that question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” That’s a great question to ask yourself when things seem terrible, don’t get me wrong. There’s probably another blog post out there about the psychology of it. Someone has written a self-help book. (I think I own it.) But that’s not the point I set out to make.
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Nothing that, in the grand scheme of things, matters a damn bit, but it all leaves me feeling like less than a functional adult. And I came home tonight feeling like I can’t do much of anything right, and I’m not sure how to pull off a magic trick and change the things that need to change. Before the sobbing started this time, I remembered that my dad doesn’t care about any of that. My mom, my sister, my grandma, my cousins… they don’t care about the projects that aren’t moving forward. About the email I forgot to send. The client that never listens to a word I say. I’m surrounded by people who love me, failures and all. I’m pretty damn lucky.
That night my dad gave me permission to fail, and it all turned out okay. It’ll be okay this time too.