In Praise of Stumbling

“Everyone I know, myself included, feels insecure about something they do; this need not be a problem. What is problematic is giving power to insecurity and never challenging ourselves to reach for higher heights, or venturing into new frontiers. I am in agreement with Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus who said: “I get up, I walk, I fall down. Meanwhile I keep dancing.” And I affirm the wisdom of Hindu sage Sri Aurobundo who said: “By your stumbling, the world is perfected.”

Authors stumble through multiple drafts of their books before getting them published. Athletes stumble – sometimes literally – as they hone their skills, Students and teachers, parents and politicians, carpenters and cooks, everyone does badly, at least for a time, the tasks their roles and professions require.”

British literary legend G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly.” At first glance this is a confounding statement, for it appears to promote the idea that doing a sloppy job is acceptable. But a closer look reveals the deeper meaning of his words; doing what is worthwhile is of value even if our doing of it is imperfect.

Because we breathe the air of a culture that affirms success, applauds perfection, and praises the attainment of ideals, it can be difficult to give ourselves permission to do anything badly. It goes against the grain for most of us to imagine that stumbling can be a dimension of the dance of our life. But achievements are the fruit of effort; they are acquired gradually, and often by trial, error, and failure. In fact, our faulty attempts are what enable us to become more skilled.

This notion extends beyond the realm of tasks to that of ideas. Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein opined that if at first an idea does not sound absurd there is no hope for it.  The same idea is true regarding determination; author Christopher Morley says, “big shots are only little shots who keep shooting,” and a Japanese proverb states “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once stated that you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. Striving to do well is important, but when we succumb to the voice of perfectionism, when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by insecurity, and when we give power to the fear of failure, we are less likely to take the shots that help us become better at what we do – and at being who we are.


2 thoughts on “In Praise of Stumbling

  1. This lesson I learned early. I was quite the underachiever as a child. To make things more interesting, I was born into a very talented, high achieving family; including a younger brother who tested at genius level. Failure, academic & otherwise, was commonplace for me. Fortunately, I had parents who, for the most part, accepted me as I was. That led to me not only self-acceptance, but growing to find peace with my place in life.

    Though I’ve developed some meager talents along the way, when the mark isn’t met I can move forward without that sense of frustration that can paralyze those who are so used to success at any turn.


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