I make mistakes…all the time.
I forgot my wallet once (ok, more than once). I left it at a busy, locally popular restaurant and made it all the way home before I realized it was missing. In a panic, I sped to retrieve it knowing, just knowing, someone probably took it and was at that very moment making frivolous purchases…like jet packs or collectible trinkets on eBay, or both. I pulled up, jumped out and ran inside, but before I could muster a syllable I was approached by one of the staff, who held out my wallet.
“I thought you might be back soon. A man brought this to the counter, said it had been left in the booth.”
I stood dumbstruck for what felt like a solid minute, blinking and looking around. I thanked her, took my wallet, and headed back to my car, shaking my head the whole way, staring at it as if it was a unicorn. Once inside my vehicle I feverishly checked through it because I just couldn’t believe someone would actually do the right thing. I grimaced in shame. First, because of my unforgivable stupidity (leaving my wallet, really??), second because I’d thought the worst of my fellow man for no reason.
Let’s stop right there…
It was one mistake, not the end of the world. A mistake.
That being said, if you’re like me, Dear Reader, you find it especially difficult to forgive your faults and mistakes. For some odd reason we’re less likely to allow ourselves the same latitude we allow others. We set impossible standards and when we inevitably fall short, we find it impossible to forgive ourselves. We hold on to a mistake, playing it over and over in our minds, questioning every detail and our role in it. We perform this tidy little exercise again and again, even though if someone else made the same mistake we would tell them ‘not to worry’, ‘it’s no big deal’, ‘you’re doing great’…and we would meant it. But our own mistakes, it seems, are uniquely unforgivable.
Mistakes trigger complex emotions in us. They can be internalized differently depending on delivery and elicit various responses, such as fear, disappointment, and anger. If someone confronts us with a mistake we usually respond defensively, whether we acknowledge the truth of the mistake or not, feeling as though it is a personal criticism of our character. If we personally recognize our own mistake we’re not off the hook because we tend to replace defensiveness with our own brand of harsh self-criticism. The trouble is, we tend to be ‘mistake collectors‘. We curate them as a single, large-scale exhibition of our lives, viewing them collectively as the narrative of our life, which then takes on all the charm of an enormous, matted ball of yarn that is impossible to untangle. Fortunately Dear Reader, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Perfection is a MYTH.
We are incapable of perfection. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to do our best, but we need to acknowledge perfection is a myth and we are quite adept at making small, medium, and even epic mistakes, and that’s okay because mistakes are necessary. A mistake is nothing more than a catalyst.
Consider the situation I described at the start (forgetting my wallet). My mistake was personally recognized. However, it forced me to return to the restaurant which carried some potential for criticism, either privately or openly, from others (staff or customers), and this elicited fear and defensiveness, which in turn enhanced the myth of my mistake’s enormity. Contrary to the myth, several incredible things were catalyzed by my ‘mistake’. First, it induced a response from another human being, allowing him the opportunity to decisively exercise agency, positively or negatively. (Thankfully, he chose to respond positively by turning in my wallet.) His response then held the potential to impact others. (Again, thankfully, his choice of response radiated positivity and kindness to the staff.) Likewise, his response renewed a sense of confidence and optimism in me toward my fellow man. The mistake I made also prompted me to make positive behavioral changes. In particular, I exercised greater vigilance and awareness, and suffered less fear that others would choose to exploit my mistakes if given a chance.
I made a mistake, sure. But this perspective demonstrates that mistakes, big and small, have the power to yield a myriad of positive results.
Mistakes are necessary catalysts. Take them with a grain of salt, own them, but don’t collect and curate them. Don’t relive them, but celebrate their contributions. Move on. Respect the counsel of those who love and care and have confidence that honesty, from ourselves and others, is always the best policy. We are fallible but there’s really nothing to fear but fear itself. We are better for our mistakes, and as long as we don’t try to hide them or lie them away, we will use them in ways that make our lives better and make us better people.
Take heart, Dear Reader and be kind to, and forgiving of, yourself and your mistakes. Life’s full of ’em, so rock on…
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