It's a Mistake!
tom walsh

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!


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