“Mom, how many mistakes have you made?” My 8 year old son asked me.
My eyebrows shot up. “In my life? A LOT”
“Well, I’ve made 120.” He said, matter of factly.
“Hmm. I think I’ve made a lot more than that,” I laughed.
“Well, if you make mistakes, it’s how you get better at things.”
I smiled, because he was repeating what I have told him time and time again. “That’s right, honey.” I paused. “But only if your heart is in the right place.”
I enjoyed having this conversation with my son. It was one of those chats that left me with one of those “you’re doing all right at this mom thing” pat-on-the-back feelings.
I want my kids to have a good attitude about making mistakes and view getting-back-up-after-you-fall-on-your-butt as a normal part of life.
But the fall seems to hurt a lot more when it’s your ego that takes the hit.
I’ve been a freelance editor for a small academic press for a few years. I only do a few manuscripts a year but I really enjoy it and, after I quit my job in March, I’ve been trying to find ways to expand my freelance editing career.
I found an online business that specializes in matching prospective editors with authors and/or publishers. I applied and they sent me five samples (one copy editing sample and four substantive samples) for me to edit in order to test my skills.
I spent a lot of time on the samples and sent them back. I was confident that I would soon be part of their team. After all, I had a lot of experience editing a plethora of genres (fiction, self-help, text books, sermon collections, etc. etc.).
Not to mention the fact that I taught writing for 6+ years.
And I have my BA and MA in English.
Plus I had excellent recommendations from authors I have worked with on past manuscripts.
These sample tests—psh! A mere formality!
Then I got an email back from the coordinator. She said I had done an excellent job on the substantive editing samples in giving constructive feedback on plot, organization, word choice, etc.
But I HAD FAILED THE COPY EDITING TEST.
My eyes widened as I stared at the email.
Surely there is some mistake. How did I not meet their standards? I nit-picked through that sample. I marked everything. This is GRAMMAR and punctuation stuff and formatting stuff. There is no way…!
I was literally blushing in the blue glow of my computer screen. I was angry, horrified, beyond embarrassed.
I thought of my past students who had emailed me, shocked and angry when they earned Cs (or worse) on their first paper in my class.
I am an A student! I have never gotten a C in my life!
Suddenly the roles were reversed.
I saw myself one way but reality revealed a huge deficit in my perception of my skills.
I cried and stewed and questioned my education and teaching skills and wondered if I had screwed up every manuscript I had touched in the past.
I felt like crap for the good part of 24 hours.
Then I was sick of my own pity party. I had to make a choice.
I could abandon this whole editing thing all together. Sure, I liked it. Sure, authors had told me that I had done an excellent job and any writer would be lucky to have me edit their book. Sure, one author had even dedicated his book to me. Whatever. Clearly, I sucked.
I could get my heart in the right place, swallow my pride, and utter these words to my prideful heart:
“You don’t know everything. And you can’t get better at anything if you think you’ve already arrived.”
So I chose option 2.
When I looked back at the sample, I realized that I clearly didn’t know Chicago style formatting and citations as well as I thought I did.
And I plan to study up, re-do the test, and hopefully do better next time.
I emailed the coordinator back, I told her that I would like to be part of their pool of substantive editors and I would work on retaking the copy-editing test in the next 30 days, per their policy.
Eating humble pie is never pleasant. In fact, growth can be an awful, stretching, painful experience. But as I’ve told my students and children, “Making mistakes is how you get better at things.”
But only if my heart is in the right place.
Have you had to eat Humble Pie in order to grow?
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