A few years ago, I had a house project to do. I wanted to paint our bedroom a nice sky blue.
I remember the day pretty vividly, because the Seahawks were in the Super Bowl that day and I was excited. As I got ready to paint, I felt rushed. I really wanted to get this project done before I went out and watched the game. I wanted to be productive, get this thing done.
I went to tape the trim around the room so paint wouldn’t get on it. I did it hastily. I went to put down the drop cloth, did that hastily too.
In those moments, there was a distinct voice in my head. “Peter, go slower. You are going to get paint everywhere and you will regret it”. I heard the voice, but then, out of a combination of laziness, arrogance, and entitlement (to an easy, satisfying life where you don’t have to be diligent about things), decided to ignore it.
As I went about painting, I cut corners. I went too quickly. I didn’t take care. “Why should I move the drop cloth? I just have one or two strokes over here. That’s too much work.”
By the end, there was paint on the walls, sure. But there was also paint on the carpet, and some splashed up on the trim. I was disappointed. Not in any major way; our lives would go on pretty much the same. But I knew I had chosen expediency over doing the job right.
And more than that, I knew that I could have avoided it. In fact, I had told myself exactly what would happen well ahead of time, and then ignored my own wisdom.
I make a lot of mistakes, just like the story. So do you, I bet. That’s a good thing. If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t challenging ourselves. We are playing safe and small. We are keeping ourselves from our growth edge. We aren’t learning.
I’ve noticed, for me at least, that nearly every mistake I make is something I actually consciously anticipated in advance. There’s a voice in my head, sometimes quite loud and sometimes very faint, that tells me “Peter, don’t do that, you are going to regret it!” or “Peter, pay attention to this!” Don’t eat that extra slice of pizza. Be more careful to tape up the trim before you paint the room. Proofread that email before you send it. Your boss doesn’t really want you to prepare the report this way and you know it.
Very rarely do I make a mistake that comes completely out of left field, where I had no awareness that it might happen.
Rather, for most mistakes I make, I seem quite aware of their possibility well in advance. But, due largely to laziness or stubbornness, I decide to simply not pay attention to them. Some part of my brain is saying “Pay attention!” and another complains that doing so is too difficult, tiring, or is some sort of injustice to myself. I’m in resistance to the truth inside me because it is inconvenient and annoying.
I know I need to tape the trim before I paint. But I don’t WANT to!!
I am slowly becoming better at detecting this. I am better at not ignoring the voices inside me, trying to help. They seem to be less faint and vague then before. Where before they spoke in whispers and pangs in my gut, now they speak in full, well-articulated sentences. “Peter, you may not want to tape the trim carefully, but you will regret it and feel badly about yourself if you do. Just put in a little extra time and it will pay off for years.”
This has been one of the most important steps in my personal development. By simply being more willing and able to be honest with myself, to let myself be my own teacher, to absorb and embrace the truths that are already within me, but which are inconvenient – doorways are opening up left and right.
Try something for me. Whether you are doing a project at home or engaged in some big project at work, go a little bit more slowly and see if you have any messages to yourself. Are there some messages from you to yourself that you are not really hearing or embracing? And if so, why? Why are you ignoring them? Why are they so inconvenient to you? Why are you in resistance to their truth?
The answer is likely another stepping stone along the path to becoming you, the real you, the most fully actualized version of who you can be.