The Day I Learned to Give Myself Grace
“Once, I performed a rectal examination on a patient, but I kept thinking something felt wrong.”
She paused, and her college-age audience waited eagerly for her conclusion — after all, a rectal examination-gone-wrong story told by an ER doctor was more interesting than the weather or politics.
“It wasn’t until the examination was complete that I looked at my hands and realized I’d forgotten something important. I wasn’t wearing my rubber gloves.”
I attended four years of college, and it’s with sad honesty that I admit most of what I learned leaked through the mental sieve of busyness and sleep deprivation.
But there was one speaker who came to our school who I remember quite well.
Born in Lebanon, the tall, energetic, blunt woman started her presentation with an entertaining story about her life as a doctor, “Just to make sure you’re all paying attention.”
Then she launched into her talk.
“Today I’m going to talk about the old saying, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’”
We looked at each other in boredom. It was just another lecture that we should work harder, try more, and pay better attention in class. She didn’t know anything about us, that most of us worked two jobs just to afford being there, and between exhaustion and loud people in the dorms, staying awake and paying attention in class was barely possible.
But just as she started to lose her grip on the audience, she reeled us back in with startling alacrity.
“I’m here to tell you that it’s not true.”
Suddenly, the auditorium of 1,500 jaded students, tired of lectures about meeting their potential, sat up. This, they could handle — someone who finally understood that they didn’t want another “chin up and toe the line” speech.
“You’ve been hearing that your whole life, and it’s made you afraid to try anything. If you’re going to try, you need to succeed. What’s more, if you’re going to do something, you have to be the best at it. There’s no room at the top for two.”
That’s when I stopped looking around at my peers and leaned forward. This sounded familiar. I’ve always believed in doing my best, putting my best foot forward, and really striving for success. It’s not that I won’t do things once if I can’t be the best . . . I just don’t want to try them again.
Then she dropped the bomb.
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. If it’s really worth doing, it’s not how you did that matters. It’s just that you did it.”
Silence swept across the audience, as they listened with rapt attention. Finally, someone who was willing to see their tired, busy, all-I-have effort as enough.
Her talk wasn’t much longer. She repeated herself a few times, talked about the value of doing things no matter how you do, and concluded with the golden phrase that stuck in my mind like glue.
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”
I didn’t stop trying new things, and I didn’t stop trying to do my best — but after that day, I stopped believing that anything less than the best wasn’t good enough.
And that’s called grace.