The Hardest Lesson I've Had to Learn

The most important and I think the hardest lesson I’ve learned about being “good soil” is that people need space to grow.

My husband and I recently moved to a house that had room for a vegetable garden in the back. Neither of us has a lot of experience gardening; however, we were eager to start. We liberally sowed seeds everywhere we could; tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, beets, peppers, everything we could think of. The summer got busy (of course) and the garden got pushed to the back burner. Soon it was overgrown with weeds and we never took the time to thin out the plants. It’s no surprise that we didn’t get much out of the garden: The carrots and beets never reached an edible size and the tomatoes got eaten by squirrels before we even noticed they were ready to be picked. Our plants had lots of soil, but no room to grow: they were choked out by weeds or their growth was blocked by the many other plants growing around them.

Just like plants, we need room to grow. So, what does that look like for us?

Each of us needs the space and the freedom to learn and grow without fear of failure or judgment. We need the space to make mistakes, to try new things, and to possibly fail. Being a safe place for someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give. My mom always says, “we are called human beings, not perfect beings”, I used to get kind of annoyed when she said this, but now I really appreciate it. Our weaknesses are a beautiful part of our humanity. We are not “perfect”, we make mistakes, we fail, we have faults and it is through these things that we have the capacity to learn, to grow and to reach beyond what we are currently capable of.

It sounds true and great, but man is it hard!

The most obvious example I have of this is with my children. It starts with breakfast, my two year old desperately wants to help me make breakfast so I give her a job. She steps on her stool and I hand her a whisk, her job is to mix the eggs. After carefully cracking all the eggs I pass her the bowl. She eagerly takes it and begins her mixing job. I sit there biting my lip, bracing myself for a potential mess and restraining myself from stepping in to do it the way I want it done and then BOOM the bowl drops. Raw eggs everywhere. My instant reaction is to get frustrated and mad,  but instead, I muster out an overly enthusiastic “uh-oh”. My daughter responded with, “ it’s ok mommy, we clean it up”. She jumped off her stool, and ran to get a cloth from the drawer, and began to help me clean up the mess. When we’re done, she points out that there are more eggs in the carton, and that we can start again.

Moments like this happen throughout the entire day, it’s like an intricate dance I do all day long; keeping them safe yet giving them space to take a chance and learn. Many times throughout the day I find myself ready to leap in to stop my toddler from doing something on her own because I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself or make a mess or simply to save time. But, when I pause and give her the space to figure things out, she, more often than not, surprises me with her innovation and resourcefulness. She figures it out. Yes, this has caused a few tumbles, many messes--and, goodness does it take a lot more time to get things done--but the reward is immeasurable. I watch the pride on her face and the confidence that wells up her everytime she discovers how to do something new; it’s priceless! She knows that I am standing by, spotting her in case things go awry. Sometimes she asks for help and I’m right there to step in or lend a hand to give her a nudge in the right direction. She knows its ok if something breaks or spills because I do my best when it happens to be calm and collected.

Imagine the gift this would be if we could be that safe place for everyone in our life. That they would know in our presence that they can be free. They can try new things and know that we are there if they need help or if things go wrong, that we are there to help clean up the mess. Imagine how people would feel the freedom to take risks and be adventurous. Imagine the freedom and life they would experience.

So, where do we start in accomplishing this type of environment?


And yet, I find this to be one of the hardest things, to give myself the space to make mistakes. I get furious with myself when I lose my keys, or when a project fails at work. It impedes me living a full life. For example, for the longest time, I wouldn’t play sports or games unless I knew I was going to be good at it because I didn’t want to fail. I have high standards for myself and when I miss the mark or someone else points out my weakness I crumble. I get discouraged, down on myself, and just feel like giving up.

Giving yourself permission to make mistakes, to be vulnerable, to take risks is really hard. And, yet, this is truly the key for us to be that safe place for others. When we are kind to ourselves when we fail, and we have mercy on ourselves, it gives those around us permission to do the same.

I became really aware of this the other day when I was making dinner and I broke a glass. It had been a long day already, and I was just so ready to eat and then put the kids to bed. When I heard the glass shatter I instantly felt defeat. I looked up and both my 10-month-old and my 2-year-old staring at me, waiting to see how I would react. They were watching to see how they should react.  I thought back to the egg incident; my daughter was not afraid of the mess or the extra time it took and more importantly she was not afraid of failure. I didn’t need to worry either, it was ok and it was going to be ok, it was just a glass, “uh-oh”.

I have the freedom to fail, and so do you.

What’s one area of your life where you can give yourself more freedom to fail?

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