So you've made a mistake...
I’ve made a mistake. In fact, I’ve made hundreds. Small ones, big ones, easy to fix ones, difficult to fix ones, somewhat funny ones and somewhat painful ones.
I’ve said things, I’ve done things, I’ve hurt others and I’ve hurt myself.
But you know what? I’m not a bad person. I don’t define myself by the mistakes I’ve made, and you shouldn’t either.
If you want to be perfect or even close to perfect, or if you want to be the one exception who gets things right all the time, then you will forever be reaching for something that is impossible to have. Climb down from the pedestal you have created for yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and see who is really there, not who you want to be there instead.
I was a teacher for twelve years. Every day it was part of my job to show children that it’s okay to make mistakes. I would make my own on purpose, wait for them to spot them, and allow them to correct me. It encouraged them to be resilient learners, who didn’t stumble at the first hurdle but who kept trying until they succeeded, and who felt a sense of pride and accomplishment when they did.
So if we are teaching our children that it’s okay to make mistakes, then we need to remember that we are also allowed to. This doesn’t give us free reign to do whatever we want or to throw caution to the wind completely, happily then excused by “oh well, we all make mistakes!” What it does do is encourage us to explore and experiment with our lives, to live through trial and error and to find out for ourselves what works for us and what doesn’t.
When we do something we know we shouldn’t have, we can be filled with an all consuming sense of shame. And shame is poisonous to our well-being. We walk around holding an invisible sign above our head, neon lights flashing our deepest darkest secrets for all to see and all to judge. We throw a cloak over it, paint over it, sink it forever into the shadows. No one must ever find out our secrets, because no one will ever understand them.
But in truth, only one person will ever really know all the mistakes you've made and who will ever really judge them, and that is you.
So how are you going to deal with this knowledge of the mistakes you've made? Hate yourself, punish yourself, revile yourself? Stop yourself from being allowed to live happily and free from your own harsh judgement? Or love yourself, freely and unconditionally? Accept that yes you have done this thing and no you shouldn’t have done it but also that you had your reasons at the time, even if now they don’t make much sense. You can try better, work harder, fix things and improve them. You can say sorry, you can makes things right and you can make changes.
Does this always work? No.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Some mistakes just cant be fixed.
It's harsh but it's the truth.
Stop trying so hard.
Give up and move on.
You can’t salvage everything.
Shrug your shoulders, cry your tears and above all, forgive yourself.
There's a song I love and I listen to it on days when I feel particularly reflective on the mistakes I've made.
There isn't much I can think of that is more pointless than regret. You will never manage to go back and undo a mistake you made, but you could go mad trying.
Have you ever heard of Kintsugi? It’s the ancient Japanese art of adding gold to broken objects, strengthening them and making them more unique and beautiful. It represents the fact that breaks and mistakes are just another part of our history. I wear mine like scars and I do so with a mixture of sadness and pride. How do you wear yours? Are they something to hide away and forget? Or are they simply just another thing that makes you who you are?
I’ve made a mistake and it’s not my last. I will make many more along the way and I have to make my peace with that, just as you do too. That’s the reality and flaw of being human. But remember, you are not defined by your mistakes and you have nothing to be ashamed of.