A few weekends ago, I cleaned out my closet. It was a big project in itself, but the things I found there are even more interesting.
At the bottom of a box, I found a speeding ticket. I got this ticket in 1999. There it was, a photo of me, driving peacefully along at the flow of traffic at College and Drake, paying no attention to my speed. But I did see the flash at the side of the road, and I knew I’d been had.
I got proof a few days later when the ticket arrived in my mail. I don’t remember what the fine was, but I remember being mightily upset about it.
I paid the fine. I learned not to go through that intersection without watching my speed. And I completely forgot about the ticket until I cleaned out my closet a few weeks ago.
So no big deal.
We all get speeding tickets, we forget appointments and we make embarrassing typos on Facebook.
We feel shaken to the core by our mistakes, we pay our dues, and we take our lessons to heart.
Then we forget about them.
That seems like a healthy way to deal with mistakes.
But what about the BIG mistakes?
I’m talking about the kind of mistake that changes the course of your life. The debt you’re paying off long after you’ve learned the obvious lessons. The boyfriend you should have never shacked up with, and you’re still finding chipped silver that he sent through the garbage disposal in a fit of passive aggression. The awful job you stayed with long enough to believe in your own unemployability. The mistakes you made years ago that so-called friends are still reminding you about.
From what I gather, many (maybe most) people pay their debt without thinking about how they got there, buy new utensils without missing the old ones, change jobs with confidence, and dump the friends who rub their noses in their past.
That’s not who this blog post is for.
This blog post is for those who take their mistakes more seriously. I’m writing about those (few?) who still live their mistakes daily.
How DO you put these things behind you, when you face them daily?
So I asked this question of a few friends of mine. I’m withholding names to protect privacy, but some of the answers were so great, I have to share them with you now.
Here they are (with a few thoughts of my own).
- Take a look, with compassion, at the person you were when you made your big mistake. What were your daily concerns and struggles, and what did you know about yourself and the world? Remember that you did your very best with the knowledge you had then, and you did good.
- Identify the natural human needs you were attempting to fill when you made your mistake. Were you seeking acceptance or belonging in love that went bad? Did you need respect, so you hid your “secret” until it was too big to hide? Were your credit cards spent down meeting basic survival needs (food and shelter)? Accept your needs as part of being human, and be as compassionate with yourself as you would a friend who has the same needs. If you have better ways to meet those needs now, just remember, as in #1, you did your best with the knowledge you had then.
- Consider a different lesson you’re here to learn. Maybe the lesson you’re supposed to learn isn’t what you think it is. For example, perhaps you’ve learned to never use credit cards – so why are you still paying on this crazy debt?? In my own series of mistakes, I thought my lesson was responsibility, but every “responsible” decision I made got me deeper into trouble. Consider that the lesson might be something you don’t know yet. Maybe it’s “how to let go” of what’s dragging you down, or “how to accept help without shame,” or even self-forgiveness.
- Remember that you’re not alone. People make big mistakes every day, have made big mistakes all through history, and will continue to make big mistakes. Perhaps if you haven’t yet made a big mistake, you haven’t lived long enough!
And yes, you’ll need solutions. But avoid people who belittle your efforts and those old “friends” who keep reminding you of what you “should have done” (as if that helps!). Seek the company of other good people who have been through what you’re going through, can offer solutions that make real sense to you, and won’t judge.
- And last but not least, feel what you feel. It’s easy for someone who isn’t suffering daily effects of mistakes to advise forgetfulness. But when it’s in your face, there’s a good chance you’ll feel it. The trick is not to block the feelings, but to move through the feelings into what-needs-to-be-done-next.
Anyway, when you’re not in a place to put your mistakes behind you, these are some ideas for living with them just a little bit easier. They were helpful for me, and I hope they’re helpful for you, too. If you have any other ideas to add, I’d love to hear it.
By the way, the speeding ticket I found in my closet? I’m pretty sure I threw that away. But if I happen to find it, I’ll post it here. 🙂