Let me ask you something that you might not particularly like: have you ever made a mistake?
It could be a small mistake that’s easily fixed, like not saying something that you probably should have, or stepping on your cat’s tail without noticing. It could be a huge mistake that affects your entire life, like not going for that particular job, or keeping someone harmful in your life way past the due point. Or maybe it’s none of these: maybe it’s a mistake all your own, something that I can’t even think of off the top of my head, and yet it came to your mind immediately when I asked the question.
Because, chances are, when I asked the question, you answered yes.
Because, end of day, we all make mistakes. We make mistakes so often that we have written multiple cliches about it – “you’re only human”, “to err is human”, so on and so forth.
So, okay. You’ve made mistakes. What are you going to do about them?
Apologize? There’s a thought. We tend to turn toward apologies whenever we do something wrong, but what happens when our mistakes are too large for a simple “I’m sorry”? What do we do when we’ve hurt someone so bad that we can’t be forgiven? What do we do when we haven’t hurt anyone, except for ourselves? What do we do when apologies don’t fix anything, because what’s been lost is time or trust or mental health, something that can never be fully returned?
Well, when that happens, we tend to have two options: 1) we can wallow. We can remain in the knowledge that we fucked up and there’s nothing we can do about it and it’s all just irredeemable, so why bother to make it better? We can continue making the same mistakes. We can continue hurting the people around us. We can continue hurting ourselves. We can become lost, stagnant, without growth, and we can do all this without even fully realizing that that’s what we’re doing. We can avoid confronting what happened, because what happened was uncomfortable and awful and we don’t want to go back to that again.
I understand wanting to do that. It is a very human thing to do. But, as the cliche goes, to err is human, and this is, most certainly, one of those errs.
Because then there’s our second option: 2) we can confront it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we can make it better. We can’t fix something that is already broken, but we can try to build something new from the pieces that are left.
We can try to learn about what we did wrong. We can look back on it from a better, more mature vantage point. We can discuss our mistake with people, listen to what they have to say about it, try to expand our mind and accept that we are not going to be correct 100% of the time. We can learn, and by learning, we can grow. We can become better for our mistakes.
Maybe you had to keep that toxic person in your life for as long as you did so that you could set up boundaries, and discover how you want to be treated in future relationships.
Maybe you didn’t go after that job because there was something that you needed to learn elsewhere before you could pursue it – even if it was something as simple as the significance that that job has. Maybe you needed to know what an awful, soul-sucking job was like so that you could fully appreciate a different job.
Maybe you stepped on your cat’s tail so that you can learn to watch where you’re going next time, I don’t know.
Things are going to go wrong. We have made many mistakes in the past, and we will make many mistakes in the future. But, hopefully, the mistakes that we make in the future will be different mistakes from the ones we have already made.
Because each mistake gives us our chance to learn something new, and it is up to us whether or not we want to utilize that opportunity. We don’t have to. We can allow ourselves to become beaten down by the knowledge that we aren’t perfect. We can become depressed because of it, we can delude ourselves with stories of our own grandeur. But if we do that, then we don’t grow. We don’t become better; we stay the same. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with who we are, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also become better.
And, end of day, so long as we are still alive, we still have time to make things better. We still have time to change. Because our lives are not over yet. We have opportunities, even if we do not see them yet. Who we are today does not have to be who we are tomorrow; we are ever-changing creatures. If you want to get that job, then go get that job – I don’t care if you’re twenty years old, or fifty. There’s still time. And even if the only thing that you accomplish with it is that it makes you happier, then do it, for god’s sake, because that’s more than enough!
Even if your mistake is that you’ve spent too much time wallowing in your own mistakes, there is still time to change. All you need to do is confront who you are and what you have done, open your mind to other perspectives, and try to be patient, understanding, and humble when you talk to people about it. It won’t be easy, but I can promise you: it will be worthwhile.
And, please, don’t be afraid to seek out help if you need it – whether that be professional help, like a therapist or a support group – or more personal help, like a friend or a loved one. Sometimes, other people will give us a better perspective on where we are than we have, because they come without our biases.
We all make mistakes. We all screw up from time to time. There’s nothing wrong or shameful in that. But that doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility to learn from them and grow as human beings because of them.