In a clip from the movie Whiplash, the best supporting actor for playing an extremely intense music teacher, says this: “The worst thing anyone can tell a child is good job.” I totally get what he’s saying there. I understand constructive blah, blah, blah. But this post is not that. This post is one big, fat good job.
Before the Oscars, I learned something about my state of mind because of the part that made me cry in The Theory of Everything. It wasn’t exactly the obvious part. It was personal. It happened when the table of teachers weighed in on his life’s work. Not when he was given a life-threatening diagnosis, despite my familiarity with the moment, but when he stood before the big, bad faculty review board, the fate of his career in their hands, and waited, anxiously, for them to tell him if his thoughts were worthy. They started with criticism, and my heart broke as if they criticized me. It’s a testament to writing, direction, and acting, that I was on edge here. I mean, it was Stephen Hawking for goodness sake. I knew what would happen. And then it did. They said, “It’s brilliant. You did it.” And, People, I bawled. And I realized perhaps I am a little too familiar with the feeling that Barbara Brown Taylor describes this way:
I had thought I would be ready to get back to work by December, but I was wrong. I so loved the rhythm of waking with the sun, working at my own speed, and taking time to visit the chickens every day that the thought of keeping a schedule again filled me with dread. After so many weeks removed from public view, I also shrank from the prospect of being looked at again. Perhaps only deep introverts or people recovering from long illnesses can grasp such reticence, but it really does take a lot of energy to withstand human inspection.
Right? Do you ever feel that all day every day you are basically on trial with your fellow man, and so are your family members and your company and your child’s basketball team, and your child’s ability not just to solve an equation but to explain in the appropriate common core style exactly how he solved it? By the end of some days, when my head hits the pillow, I practically kiss it. I’m so thankful to no longer be under inspection.
Leo Babauta recently wrote a post about this invisible gem we each spend all day trying to protect. The gem is the illusion of perfection, the idea that we are always fine and never make mistakes. We protect this gem by being grouchy and defensive, certain every other person is attacking it. Babauta says the gem is an illusion, and if we can realize that, we’ll be free.
It made perfect sense to me – I loved that post, but I actually do think there is a gem. It’s not that we are perfect, because none of us are. It’s not that we don’t make mistakes. The gem I believe in is an inner calm that says, “I’m okay. I do my best. Sometimes it’s fabulous. Sometimes not so much. But there is always next time.” This gem is real I think. And it’s something we have to protect for ourselves but occasionally have the privilege to acknowledge in others. “I like something about you.” “I saw that good thing you did.” “I believe in you.”
I have grand intentions to write a thesis, or LinkedIn post – whatever – about kindness in professionalism. Actual kindness. Inside professionalism. I don’t know that it’s the best way to get ahead in your career. But I do think it’s the best way. I think in the end, it’s the kind people who will be able to say not just that they were successful but that they were successful at the right things.
In the scene that made me cry, one of the world’s most brilliant minds has created a theory for the beginning of things. And the minds brilliant enough to be in charge of judging his, deemed the project – well – brilliant. But then, within Hawking’s own lifetime, he decided it wasn’t brilliant at all and was in fact wrong. In the movie, and I assume in life, he doesn’t seem too shaken by this.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could so spectacularly fail and still be pretty certain we’ll eventually find the theory of absolutely everything? If we could need so little recovery from our mistakes? I think it’s worth a shot to be that audacious and then to give, give, give generous grace to all the other gemstones around us. You’re okay. You’re doing your best. We all are.