I fell down the stairs this week.
And before you have a clutch the pearls moment, I’m OK.
So, a couple of days ago, I put on my heavy backpack and headed downstairs to leave for work in my new little block heels with a ceramic coffee mug in hand.
Our hardwood stairs from the second to first floor are almost floating with the exception of a railing on one side. The other side of them is accentuated by an exposed brick wall. These details are important for you to fully appreciate the comedy of errors that followed.
So, I took a few steps down, and my shoe slipped across a step. My coffee was in my hand that was closest to the one railing. As I stumbled and slid down about five steps, I struggled to grasp anything. My coffee mug went flying into the air, coffee (cold at this point) spilled down the side of me but then flew wildly into the air before it splattered all over the hardwood floor below; my coffee mug shattered to pieces.
My other hand grasped at the brick wall as I tried to stop myself from falling rest of the way down. My ankle was held in place by a strap on my shoe, keeping my bones and muscles in position as my leg contorted and my backpack pulled me in the opposite direction.
It was wild.
I was stunned.
And this week, as I walked down those same stairs, I found myself being more cautious, ensuring my footing was solid and that I had a hand on the railing. But I climbed the stairs. It didn’t cross my mind not to climb them. I didn’t think to myself, “Whelp, I don’t do stairs now, guess I will live on the first floor.” Because I was not seriously injured. And I am capable of doing those stairs every day.
There are many, many other areas of my life where I am not so quick to jump back in. Where I am shaken to the core by a mistake I’ve made. There are areas in my work where I make mistakes and think to myself, “I do these metaphorical stairs every day. This should not be a problem for me. I should not be making mistakes. Maybe this means I’m not cut out for this work.”
There are mistakes that I make and then tie to my identity. “Whelp, I’m this kind of a person now. I can’t trust myself and others shouldn’t either.”
When the more productive and healthy response to mistakes is to ask ourselves with genuine curiosity, “What were the conditions that contributed to this situation, and how might I learn something from this?”
For example, I learned this week that it’s safer to hold my coffee mug in the other hand, so I can hold onto the railing when walking down the steps. I also learned that my new shoes are very slippery and perhaps I should wait to put them on by the front door. Finally, I was reminded that my husband is very kind and helpful in tough situations, and it’s so nice to have someone who has my back.
What we don’t need when we are going through something hard is shame or judgement.
There is a quote that I love from Phillip Roth, “Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.” While I don’t totally agree with that and wouldn’t want to minimize anyone’s experience, it has me thinking. I’m doing that a little bit here. I’m allowing something that was mildly difficult this week to teach me. To give me pause and cause me to reflect. I’m allowing that hard thing to inspire reflection and growth.
And I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I were to do that more. If we all were to do that more. What would happen if every time we slipped down the metaphorical staircase in one area or another, instead of rushing to shame and judgement and self-defeating thoughts, we instead allowed others to pick us up. What would happen if we dusted ourselves off and then allowed our experiences to teach us how to be better next time?
Not in a “fix who we are” kind of way, but in more of a “How might we tweak the conditions to ensure that success is within reach for ourselves and others?” kind of way.
This does not replace accountability. It’s merely a way of thinking about it in a way that centers our humanity.
Because we are human. We will make mistakes. We will learn hard lessons over and over.
And that’s OK.
As long as we keep trying, learning, and caring deeply.
What is something you’ve been struggling with lately, and how might you be a bit more gentle in the way you care for yourself? How might you tweak the conditions under your control to make success more possible for yourself? For the adults in your school? For your students?