What ‘Game of Thrones’ Reminds Us About Making Mistakes
May 23, 2019
Fire breathing, spiky dragons? Check.
Army of pale, wizened undead trampling the frozen tundra? Check.
Brutal showdown between a pre-teen warrior and reanimated giant? Check.
A coffee cup and water bottles accidentally left in the middle of a fantasy worldscape? Oops.
Even those outside the diehard (or defecting) Game of Thrones fantasy fanbase probably know about the mistakes made in the show’s final season.
During a celebration in the fictional land of Winterfell, a very modern coffee cup (and plastic lid) from craft services made its way onto a table otherwise laden with the much more era-appropriate mead.
Then, in the record-breaking finale, eagle-eyed fans noted what appeared to be water bottles at the feet of the principal characters during a meeting in King’s Landing.
These were mistakes. Major mistakes. Some GoT fans, who are petitioning HBO, consider them redo-the-whole-final-season-level mistakes.
But the fact is, they’re just human errors.
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And that’s the common thread that connects the team of a multimillion-dollar HBO franchise and us: No one is perfect.
Yet now more than ever, we’re expecting ourselves—and the people around us—to deliver perfection.
A recent study revealed that between 1989 and 2016, perfectionism—defined as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others”—has increased significantly among young people.
Socially prescribed perfectionism (the expectations you perceive others have for you) grew the most over that time period, spiking a full 33% when compared to a 10% increase for self-oriented perfectionism (your own desire for perfection) and a 16% boost for other-oriented perfection (setting unrealistic standards of perfection for others).
“Today’s young people are competing with each other in order to meet societal pressures to succeed, and they feel that perfectionism is necessary in order to feel safe, socially connected and of worth,” Thomas Curran, Ph.D., one of the study’s co-authors, told the American Psychological Association.
And it’s no surprise that some of the data seemed to suggest that social media is playing a role in this uptick. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube—they all make it easier than ever to compare ourselves to the image of perfection we see reflected back to us from everyone else on the platforms.
Yet the truth remains that we’re all out here—including out here in Westeros—still making mistakes.
And that’s why those missteps in Game of Thrones gave me an opportunity to reflect.
At the end of such an epic fantasy, the curtain was pulled back ever so slightly to remind us that there’s a reality existing beneath the story we’ve bought into.
It’s a reminder to turn to the next time you make a mistake.
Being Human Means Being Imperfect
Our default mode is to forget that human error is all around us, impacting everyone we encounter.
Kristen Neff, Ph.D., the leading self-compassion researcher, explains that when we notice our own imperfections, we tend to see them as isolated or disconnected from the world around us, rather than part of a shared human experience. We feel like the only one making mistakes, rather than one of many people slipping up every single day.
No surprise: Seeing our own imperfections as isolated sets us up for greater misery.
“When we focus on our shortcomings without taking the bigger human picture into account, our perspective tends to narrow,” Neff writes. “We become absorbed by our own feelings of insufficiency and insecurity. When we’re in the confined space of self-loathing, it’s as if the rest of humanity doesn’t even exist…Somehow it feels like I am the only one who is being dumped, proven wrong, or humiliated.”
The next time you have a slip-up—whether it’s a typo in an email, a conversation that didn’t quite go the way you want it to, aka a to-go coffee cup appearing in your own fantasy series—try embracing what Neff calls the concept of “common humanity.”
“When we’re in touch with our common humanity, we remember that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal,” Neff writes. “This is what distinguishes self-compassion from self-pity. While self-pity says ‘poor me,’ self-compassion recognizes suffering is part of the shared human experience.”
An exercise she recommends: Writing down the ways your experience syncs with the larger human experience. “This might include acknowledging that being human means being imperfect, and that all people have these sorts of painful experiences,” she writes. She suggests even framing your experience like this: Everyone (insert your mistake here) sometimes—it’s only human. An example for the GoT editors: Everyone forgets to edit things out of scenes sometimes—it's only human.
There’s a deep sense of relief that comes from knowing you’re not alone in being imperfect—you’re actually connected to everyone around you because of it.
So give the GoT team a break—and yourself one right along with it, because being human means being imperfect.
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