The myth of perfect 1

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It’s better to learn how to learn than to know

Dr Seuss

She is exasperated and screws up her drawing in a huff. “I can’t do it,” she exclaims angrily, “I’m no good at drawing.”

I find it a little scary how her mistakes take her quickly to the point of blaming herself. To the point of judgement calls about her ability. I find it scary because I recognise it in myself.

Author and psychologist Dr Carol Dweck is known for her research into mindset. She talks about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset in learning. One of the key factors of this difference is the way that failure is approached.

A fixed mindset says, “When I fail, I’m no good,” by comparison a growth mindset says, “When I fail, I learn.”

So how do we develop a growth mindset, both for ourselves and our children?

Value Bravery

Reshma Saujani the founder of ‘Girls who Code’ has a fascinating TED talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection.”

In this talk, she notes that the girls in her coding class would prefer to show nothing, rather than show progress that has not yielded results. She calls this “perfection or bust.”

Perfectionism is paralysing.

The fear of failure means that sometimes my daughter doesn’t even want to start. Or maybe she has got it wrong before and she doesn’t want to experience that again.

It can mean that projects get left unfinished as they are not developing as she has envisaged in her mind. At its extremes, it can mean that she is unwilling to try new things, because of the increased possibility of failure.

Reshma Saujani contends that we need to teach girls to risk and to be okay with imperfection.

In our family this means that 2018 has been dubbed the year of adventure. Any time our girls, (or their parents) try a new thing, we celebrate it as an adventure. Trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zones has been a great way to teach risk.

Value Perseverance

Once you are brave enough to risk something, then you need to be persistent enough to keep going.

There is a disconnect between what we imagine in our head and the skills required to get it realised in reality. Whether we are learning drawing, dancing or writing, we need to learn the skills required to produce a final product. And the only way to do that is through practice, and failure, and practicing again.

As I fail and try again I share these things with my children. Modelling my own failure is useful in developing my daughter’s persistence. She starts to understand that failure is merely a part of the process rather than the unfortunate end.

Value Reflection

The hardest part of all of this is to separate ourselves from our work. My daughter needs to learn that when she bakes a cake and it doesn’t work, this doesn’t mean she can’t bake.

Teaching her to question the process and investigate where she needs to make amendments is key. She may need to alter the recipe, or the cooking time.

Reflecting on the process is an integral part of learning and growing in new skills. There have been times in our year of adventure that risks have been taken and things have gone wrong. These are equally celebrated in our house, and then we reflect on what we would change next time. As Carol Dweck says,

If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.

Here is to bravery, perseverance, and reflection,



About Jodie McCarthy

Jodie is a writer, speaker, poet and mother. An unashamed words girl who writes to process the myriad of experiences of life. In her writing and on her blog she investigates the journey of life: the beautiful; the painful; the everyday; and the mundane. She has a heart for encouraging women on their life journey, particularly when that journey traverses the harder places of grief and pain. On the days when she is not writing you will find her in her kitchen, usually licking the beaters from a chocolate cake. You can find her books and follow her journey at

One thought on “The myth of perfect

  • Elaine Fraser

    Love this, Jodie. We used to have ‘adventures’ with our kids as well. Now one is in Sydney and the other is moving to the UK! You reap what you sow! xxx

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