I've made a lot of big mistakes in my life. I've hurt people, I've
broken things, I've neglected to fulfill responsibilities, I've
said stupid things, I've hurt people by saying stupid things--you
name it, I've been there. Fortunately, as I grow older I recognize
situations that are just waiting for mistakes a little earlier
than I used to, and I'm able to avoid making many of the same
mistakes that I've made before. Many, not all.
But one of the most liberating aspects of my life these days is
the fact that I'm now able to accept my mistakes for what they
are-- mistakes. Not crimes (in my case, anyway), and not horrible
actions that will lead to complete social stigmatization, but just
mistakes. I used to beat myself up over them, and my own mental
beatings after the mistakes were much worse than the mistake
itself, or anything that anyone else could have done to me as a
result of the mistake.
It used to be that if I said something hurtful, I'd feel that
the person I hurt never would want to talk to me again, that the
person would reject me completely for the rest of my life. The
reality of the situation, though, was that most of the time, the
other person forgot about it pretty quickly, and I was still
agonizing over the response of someone who wasn't even thinking of
what I did any more.
I'd also be afraid that once someone saw me make a mistake,
that person wouldn't trust me any longer. It was pretty awful,
because just like in the previous example, most people forgot
about my mistake pretty quickly--or at least, they weren't holding
it against me.
The time and energy that I wasted agonizing over what were
almost always minor mistakes could have been spent much more
effectively on pursuits other than making myself miserable.
Nowadays, though, mistakes are an important part of my life,
for they have a very positive effect on me now--at least two very
positive effects that I can think of.
First off, they help me to learn. Once I make a mistake now, I
own it--I admit it and I look at it to figure out what went wrong.
As a teacher, it's very important for me to know what goes into a
mistake, both for my sake and for the sake of anyone that I'm able
to teach about mistakes. I learn a lot from my mistakes--I learn
how things shouldn't be done, I learn how I often misjudge
situations or people, and I learn that I can't foresee all results
of my actions.
Secondly, mistakes keep me humble, for they always provide me
with an opportunity to offer a heartfelt apology. Apologies are an
invitation for forgiveness, and forgiveness is a positive aspect
of anyone's life. Once I apologize for a mistake I've made, my
relationship with the other person or people strengthens, as long
as the other parties are willing to accept the apology.
I no longer agonize over mistakes, and I recognize now just how
harmful my own thoughts were when I used to do that. I kind of
wish that I had some of the lost time and energy back, but I know
that the agonizing was another mistake, one that took me a little
bit longer to learn from.
Take risks and make your mistakes--you're human, and you're
bound to make mistakes. When you do make them, learn from them,
and accept them as a part of your life, a part of who you are and
who you'll be. My guess is that nobody gets through this life
without making an extremely high number of mistakes, and you're no
exception. Another guess of mine is that the wisest among us are
those who have made the most mistakes and who have owned up to and
learned from them all. Your road to wisdom isn't in a book--it's
in your own mistakes!