One of these was making candle sticks out of small logs. Someone asked me if I had used a hand drill – a brace and bit - to create these. I had to admit I hadn’t. I know from past experience that the depth needed to be stable with a candle was greater than expected, and because it was quite a wide hole to drill that was very hard work when doing it by hand! Instead I used an electric drill, which made things much easier, well I say that, but my first attempt was a bit of a disaster.
The small log I chose wasn’t wide enough for the hole that was drilled with the bit. Basically, the outside of the post that should have held the candle cracked and broke off leaving a rather scraggy bit of much smaller wood. I thought rather than give up I would try again. I cut down the log (it was a bit short now, but I thought it would be alright) This time I used a smaller drill bit, and made a decent hole, and I even managed to find a narrower candle to fit it. All go for a candle holder…. However, when I put the candle in the hole the log fell over. It was now so small a piece of wood it didn’t have the weight or depth to be stable enough, and that is a bad combination for something on fire! I put this failure to one side and we made a few much better candle sticks. It was a learning experience, but not much more.
Until I was running a meditation session and thought it might be nice to try lighting some incense. Unfortunately, I could not find the holder, but then I saw my failed candle stick, and realised it was perfect for the incense stick. I had managed to repurpose my mistake, and even got a compliment for it. I realised then that for some groups making a candle stick can be too hard, but an incense holder may work better, and that even the things I have given up on could be used.
This brought to mind some of my ideas on mistakes, how our need as a society to live the perfect life can be a real strain on our mental health – for both adults and young people. How there often isn’t room for ‘having a go’ - trying things out and not making it, for being second or third best, or even the worst! With the rise of social media, our actions are scrutinised, and we see the perfected presentation from others for us to live up to. This means the errors and mistakes in our life can feel out of all proportion to the achievements.
I have seen this when running courses. Both children and adults can be overly critical of their work, focusing only on the bits that need improving. I created this story below to consider mistakes, and the role they have in our lives….
A story of mistakes
Leah was in a bad mood. She had worked really hard on her maths and it was normally one of her best subjects. But today they had had a test. It wasn’t too difficult. Just adding big numbers and Leah was normally quite good at this. Today however she had made some mistakes. Even the teacher said she wasn’t as good as normal. Leah didn’t like that. She didn’t like making mistakes. Add to that she wasn’t going home tonight. Her parents were going out and she was going to stay with her grandparents. That meant she couldn’t escape to her bedroom. Leah kicked the ground. The other children were pushing past, talking and running home. Leah was planning how long she could dawdle before she was chided along. She swung her bag in a way she was told not to by her mum and scraped the soles of her shoes along the pavement.
Leah’s Nan stood a little apart from the normal parents doing the pick up. She didn’t know many of them, this was only the second time she had ever picked Leah up from school. She watched Leah walk, her eyes stared down at the pavement, she scowled and scraped her shoes. Nan raised an eyebrow. It looked like thing were not quite right with Leah.
Leah and her Nan drove home in near silence. Nan asked a few questions about Leah’s day, but Leah just shrugged or made indistinct noises. There wasn’t anything she wanted to say. Her maths test was taking up all of her mind.
Once they got to Nan’s house Leah followed Nan in and sat in the living room whilst Nan went and cooked her tea. Leah still had said nothing, she was so upset. It might not have seen a big deal to many people, but to her it meant everything. Leah suddenly noticed Nan sitting in the chair next to her. She wasn’t sure how long she had been there.
“I bet I can make up a story to help you feel better”
Leah shook her head
There was silence.
“It’s maths. I did really badly at school today. I made stupid mistakes. I know everyone will say it doesn’t matter and that it isn’t important. But I hate making mistakes.”
Nan paused for a bit then smiled. “Grab your coat, and hat and gloves.” It was cold out that December evening, and already dark. “We are going for a walk.”
Leah hesitated. She wanted to feel cross, but a walk in the night was unusual. Curiosity got the better of her.
They walked to the park near Nan’s house. Leah’s breath made swirling patterns and the air was so cold it felt like it was biting at Leah’s skin.
Nan kept up a quick pace keeping them both warm. Then, when it seemed like it was as far from houses as they could get she stopped.
“Close your eyes, Leah.”
Leah was intrigued, she closed her eyes. Nan gently turned her round, and whispered in her ear “look up.” Leah opened her eyes. “What can you see?”
“I can see stars. Lots of bright shiny stars. “ As nice as the stars were this was not going to change how Leah felt.
“OK,” breathed Nan, “close your eyes again.” She turned Leah to face the other way. “Now look up, what can you see?”
Leah looked up. There was a beautiful bright shiny moon. It was low in the sky and looked huge as it hugged the edge of the tree’s silhouettes. “I can see the moon.” She hadn’t often stopped to just look at the moon and see how beautiful it was.
Nan said “which do you prefer the sky with the moon, or the bit of sky without a moon” Leah looked up at her and smiled.
“With the moon.”
Nan nodded. “Try thinking this… That moon is like your mistakes. It is big, and takes up your whole view, you can only see the moon. But leave it a while and the moon will be higher in the sky. We will have moved, and the moon will seem much smaller. So although now you think a maths test is everything, and it is filling up your whole view, it will change. Just give it time.”
Leah opened her mouth to argue, but Nan went on. “And the stars are still there. No matter how big the moon seems, the stars don’t change. Sometimes they seem smaller because of what else is going on, but they will always be there.”
Nan paused, then carried on “and Leah you said the sky with the moon is nicer. So is life with mistakes. It isn’t wrong to make any mistakes, and sometimes we even have to make the same mistakes many times, but that is much, much better than trying to be perfect all the time. It makes life a lot more interesting, enjoy them.”
Leah was quiet on the walk home. She wasn’t upset any more just thinking, as they reached the house she slipped her hand into Nan’s
“I hope tea is OK”
Nan was a good cook.
I am starting a PhD in wellbeing and wildlife – learning in the outdoors. I am seeking funding for this, and as a part of any donation you make I will endeavor to offer you a summary of relevant, up to date research this area, including building resilience and the joy of making mistakes!
If you would like to donate please go to www.gofundme.com/wildlife-and-wellbeing