“Two Bad Bricks” is a story about Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk who built a wall of 1,000 bricks. He laid 998 bricks perfectly, but in his wall, there were two bad bricks. He wanted to knock down his wall and start over, but he wasn’t allowed to. He was ashamed of his wall for months and tried to prevent others from seeing it. But one day, a man told him that his wall was beautiful. Ajahn Brahm couldn’t understand it until the man said, “Yes, there are two bad bricks, but I see the 998 good bricks too.”
This story made me remember:
- Many anxiety stricken moments when I tried to recall emails with typos.
- When I decided not to go a beginner’s painting class because I didn’t know how to paint yet.
- The moments I procrastinated on projects in fear of mistakes I hadn’t made yet.
- How I told people I only ran alone because I was afraid I would fail to keep up with them.
- The time someone praised me for an essay I wrote, and all I could do was bring up the faults.
- A project that took three all-nighters and twelve Red Bulls to finish. I got a perfect grade, but the teacher told me that I overdid it. He said that once I entered the real world that I would never have the time to be perfect and should learn be good enough. That comment took years to sink in.
We often see what is wrong instead of what is right, and we are our own worst critics and the centers of our own attention. So we believe that the mistakes that we make are at the centers of others’ attention too. Our perception of our actions are different from how others perceive them. We see huge exclamation points around the mistakes that we’ve made, but they’re usually invisible to others. And when others do notice, they quickly forget.
We can cripple our lives by constantly trying to build walls of 1,000 perfect bricks, or we can be happy with walls of 998, or even 900 bricks, that are good enough. And when we’re done, we can choose to see the good bricks instead of the bad ones. And in the extreme cases when those bad bricks happen to be two REALLY bad ones, own up to them, but don’t identify yourself by them.
Making mistakes and failing doesn’t mean that you are a failure.
You can find “Two Bad Bricks” in Ajahn Brahm’s Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties, a wonderful collection and a must-read for imperfectionists. Or watch him tell the story on YouTube.