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Baby Steps

By Lynn Colwell

I remember with delight when our first child was learning to walk. We happened to be traveling with a musical program at the time. Chris had joined us and about 125 other people "on the road" when he was three months old. One of the advantages in this unusual arrangement was that Chris had a large and appreciative audience to applaud every milestone. Walking was no exception.

One day Chris attempted to show us that dangling from our fingers as he tiptoed, was not cutting it. He made a determined effort to discover the intricacies of putting one foot in front of another. His every try was greeted by cheers. And when he fell, whoops of encouragement erupted. He would land with a quiet plop and look up toward a dozen faces alight with expectancy and hope. He was continually engulfed by hugs, pats and words that probably made no sense to him although there was no doubt he picked up on the encouraging tone. Like every baby, at first he fell more than he stood. When he lifted his foot too high, he tumbled. When his toes curled under, he went down. When he jerked his head to the side to see who was calling in the next room, he tipped over. But one day, to victorious shouts, Chris took his first real steps. He was nine months old.

Now as much as I like to brag about my kids (even if this happened more than 30 years ago), that's not why I'm telling the story.

I'm reminded of Chris's drive to walk and his failed attempts to do so whenever I talk to a client who beats herself up because she has not succeeded at conquering whatever challenge she is facing.

What if, I ask, if instead of encountering encouragement at every fall, our children, when they were learning to walk, faced only contempt? What if instead of showering them with love and affection, we indicated our disgust at their tumbles, called them stupid for trying or yelled at them that they would never succeed.

Would they walk? Perhaps the biological imperative would take over and after a courageous struggle, despite the odds, they might one day toddle. But we would have made it immeasurably more difficult than it might have been.

We know children need unconditional love to achieve. Why is it that we believe adults do not?

Too many of us use our failures as an excuse to punish ourselves. We do not believe we will ever "walk," and if we think we might, we believe ourselves unworthy of the honor. But what is the likelihood we will succeed if we constantly berate ourselves when we stumble? How much more useful might it be to treat ourselves as we would our children when they are learning a new and complex task? Why not show ourselves the compassion, patience and love that we would effortlessly shower on a baby?

I ask you, in this new year, to take look at how you treat yourself. Failures and mistakes are an opportunity to start again. They are the key to growth. They are not a reflection on who we are at our core. Because we fail, we are not failures.

Despite falling, you can learn to walk. What it takes is practice and caring for yourself as tenderly as you would your child. It takes a willingness to make mistakes knowing that this is the quickest way to learn. The fact is, the children we were once, live still in each of us. Our need for caring support as we venture out never leaves us. We only grow bigger so we have farther to fall. But when victory comes, it is that much sweeter.

About The Author

You may freely distribute the article as long as it carries the following notice: Copyright 2005 Lynn Colwell

Lynn Colwell is a life/personal coach and writer. After a career including public relations and corporate communications with hospitals and high tech companies, she decided to devote herself to making a difference in people's lives. Her complimentary online newsletter has been called, "An inspiring, exciting, fun, pick-me-up." Sign up for the newsletter or contact Lynn at


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