Writing my upcoming book, Imperfect Courage, has presented plentiful opportunities to look back at the journey I’ve been on for the past decade, getting Noonday off the ground, and ironically, the aspect of that journey that is still tough for me to take is the imperfection that I see. For so long, I have struggled to silence the evil voice that says I will finally be worthy of acceptance when I reach perfection. Then and only then, the voice says, will I have a permanent seat at the table. Then and only then will I belong. You can see, then, how making mistakes is difficult for me to take. It’s hard to believe in yourself when you’ve racked up so many flops.
Back in the early days of Noonday, when I was considering bringing Travis Wilson on as my business partner, two fears haunted me. First, I feared that I would single-handedly ruin his family’s financial picture, should Noonday not take off. And second, the only professional task that Travis had seen me complete had been deemed a monumental failure by us both.
A couple years earlier, during the three-point-five minutes of my life when I undertook a career in interior design, and as a way for me to get my interior design business off the ground, Travis and his wife, Suzanne, asked me to help redesign their living room. “You can beta-test your approach on us,” Travis explained. “What we need first is a new couch. You land us the perfect couch, and we’ll supply your first rave review.”
It all sounded straightforward enough, which is why it was so disheartening to me when, on the day that the non-returnable, non-exchangeable, non-refundable custom, super-expensive couch arrived, I received a text from Suzanne featuring nothing but a photograph of the new couch, unwrapped and sitting in the Wilsons’ living room. I looked at the picture, and then I looked at it again. And that’s when it hit me: I had ordered the wrong color couch.
I can’t remember if they wanted taupe and I ordered them putty, or if it happened the other way around, but I did know that I was now responsible for ordering them the right couch and figuring out what to do with the first one, which now unfortunately belonged to me. I had no money to pay for the wrong couch, but worse than even my dire financial straits was how I felt about letting the Wilsons down.
When I would later find myself in need of a partner for Noonday, Travis told me he would quit his job and support his family with his savings for a full year in lieu of taking a salary from me. Meanwhile, I hadn’t even proven to him that I could get a custom couch right. What’s more, one of Travis’s three children has Down syndrome, which meant that Suzanne needed to stay home to tend to his therapy appointments and post-op care, following several surgeries he needed to have. That left Travis as the one and only breadwinner for the family, and their savings account was the only breadbox until our business generated enough cash to pay us a salary. It was one thing for me to pawn my own jewelry, (which I did), spend my own resources, (which I did), decline taking a salary, (which I was doing), and risk my own future for this dream, but to have someone else’s livelihood at stake as well? I wondered if his confidence in me was well-placed. Every time I’d exhibit an ounce of hope in our joint venture, that terrible voice inside my head would shout, “But the couch!”
But can I tell you what I’ve learned—or what I’m trying to learn, at least? Our mistakes don’t define us. When Travis was considering becoming my business partner, he didn’t dwell on the mistakes I had made. He saw my potential—and I should give myself the same grace. So should you, friend. How much time to do you spend rehashing your past mistakes, when you could be celebrating your successes? Are you telling yourself a story of failure and disappointment, when you could instead choose to tell yourself a story of confidence, competency, and courage?
The stories we tell ourselves matter; they have the power to shape our lives. So the next time you find your brain turning, once again, to your own personal couch debacle, stop your thoughts in their tracks and turn them instead to this: “I can do this. I have value. I am enough.” I promise, this self-compassionate way of thinking will change your life for good.