Why Screw Ups Make The Best Memories

Flagler Beach

A quiet beach vacation is nice, but fades from memory. It’s the mishaps we retain longer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There isn’t a lot I remember about my wedding 13 years ago. After a year of planning, and spending the equivalent of a down payment for a house, the evening went by in a blur. The one image that’s remained vivid is my friend giving an accidental, meandering Four Weddings and a Funeral-style toast that reduced the audience to catcalls (mortifying me in front of my 85-year old grandmother). The memory has given many a laugh, including me, over the years — even if it seemed like disaster at the time.

I also can’t easily call to mind much about those heady days building my first company. I’m unable to recall any pivotal new business meetings, except the one over dinner where I went to the bathroom, tripped, and fell flat on my face in front of the entire bar filled with happy hour patrons. Which I then had to pass again on my way back to my table and my new client, who after seeing all the attention had been alerted to the whole thing.

The fact is that we remember far more the times where things don’t go as planned, then we do when everything works perfectly.

Research shows clearly that the human brain retains more from the bad memories than the good. As explained in this New York Times article, mistakes imprint longer and in more detail as perhaps a cautionary tale of what to avoid next time.

I’m okay with that.

I certainly am not hoping for disastrous consequences to deal with. But for most of us, these small annoyances of planes missed, languages flubbed, wardrobe snafus, and life’s metaphorical (or literal) stumbles happen regardless of our planning. If you have kids like I do, it’s a guarantee.

I am a whole lot happier when I embrace them and deal with them, rather than trying to control them away or worry them into extinction. After all, these “oh crap” times are the vignettes that become our stories and our shared experiences.

It’s summertime, and like many of you, I’ve got a few vacations planned. I’m continually reminding myself as I try to lock down the plans to not just enjoy what goes right, but to find the joy in what doesn’t.

Sure, I’d love to permanently embed the high points. But I know I can’t. The memories of the good times will fade, and we’ll be left with our stories of the crazy mishaps. And these will get stronger as they’re retold with more amusement and whimsy as life goes on and we layer in new knowledge.

With any luck, this summer will end with a few new stories to add to the family lore.

Are your best memories of the mishaps? Share here or @kristihedges.

Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.


Is Your Job Taking the Fun Out of Your Summer?

It’s summer. And in Washington, D.C., where I live, it’s a time that historically this otherwise frenetic, self-important town goes on vacation and takes a chill pill. Work typically slows down, as most businesses touch the government in some way. With Congress preparing to recess and vacations overlapping, not a lot can actually get done if you want it to.

So why do I find myself so busy in the middle of summer? Again.

What I used to count on for downtime no longer has so much down in it. As I talk with friends and colleagues, I hear the same story. People are cramming to get work done just so they can go on vacation, only to have a few calls or emails spill over into vacation, all wrapped up with a mountain of work on their desks after they return. Summer seems to produce even more stress than other times of the year.

A coach friend, Michele Woodward, recently posted an article about simple summer decadence called Summer Dreaming, in which she listed fun activities she was yearning to do, like eat popsicles after every meal, ride a bike with handlebars, and see friends. In essence, revel in the small things at the time you’re actually experiencing them. It felt like a guilty pleasure just to read it!

This kind of slow-paced summertime kicking back is difficult with constant work demands in nonstop emails, emergency conference calls, ever beckoning smart phones, and social media. It’s become unusual to see an out of office reply that someone won’t be available at all.

If we don’t unplug, can we have actual, unadulterated fun? Or have professional expectations taken the fun out of our summers?

I could deluge you with research showing how important play is to our ability to be creative, ideate, and gain perspective. The brain requires it to function at peak performance. Tony Schwartz has written extensively on the need for executives to have rest and recovery time, similar to corporate athletes. Check out his blog if you want more inspiration.

Many people already know this on some level, yet still allow themselves to be pressured or succumb to the need to put work before fun during supposed downtime. I love my work so it’s more than easy for me to do. So what’s really behind the loss of  summer fun — is it our jobs or are we also part of the problem?

I was discussing this phenomenon with a friend the other day at lunch, and she shared her observation that we have to examine what we’re really, truly committed to. After all, our jobs will always ask more and more from us. When we’re committed — we put our energy, time, and effort there — things work for us.  We get in trouble or disappoint ourselves when we only pretend to be committed. The big question she asked was:

What are you pretending to be committed to that you’re actually not?

For many of us, among those answers are relaxing with our families in the summer, reveling in our downtime, and having fun. I realized that for me, I lament having time to mentally check out but I don’t commit to it.

If we want rest and recovery time, we must make a true commitment to take real vacations, disconnect, plan activities that rejuvenate us, and not feel the least bit guilty about any of it. It’s just as good for our professional prowess as it is for our souls.

At the end of the day, the professional expectations are there and growing. If we want some more fun back in our summers, we’re going to have to take it for ourselves. No one is going to hand it to us.

We have more options than we think. So break out the popsicles.

(Note to self: Eating while reading Blackberry doesn’t count, even if I can do this without dripping popsicle on it.)

Have you figured out how to keep fun in your summer? Share here or on Twitter @kristihedges.


This article also appears at Forbes.com.

(Image by Auntie K via Flickr.)

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