If you were to ask me if I liked making mistakes, you would get a resounding “no.”
I desperately try to avoid them, and when I make them, I feel a certain shame and embarrassment. Let me crawl under a rock until the icky feelings pass, please. Recently I questioned my perspective on this idea, and as always, the universe provided me a wonderful opportunity.
Over the holidays I was standing in line at a small metaphysical type of store buying a crystal for a friend. The line was not moving as the customer being assisted was getting their gifts wrapped. About three feet away from me was a boy about the age of nine, and his mother looking at some of the items on a shelf. The boy was looking at a Tibetan singing bowl. This is a metal bowl accompanied by a mallet. You gently strike the side of the bowl with the mallet, or you can run the mallet along the outside rim of the bowl and it makes a beautiful sound. It is used for meditation.
The boy picked up the mallet and started gently pushing the mallet around the outside rim of the bowl, using the bowl as it is meant to be used. His mother asked him to stop, as he might ruin it. The boy continued and the mother persisted in asking him to stop again and again. She told him the bowl was to be used to crush spices. Clearly she thought it was a mortar and pestle.
I started to really feel for the boy. I highly suspected that he knew what it was because some teachers in my daughters’ school (around the same age) use it to initiate mindful breathing in the classroom.
I stood there debating whether to say something. I don’t like to interfere in other people’s affairs, nor did I want to embarrass this woman, but I also know how much it upsets my own daughters when they don’t feel heard or respected by adults. I decided to say something with my intention being to support this boy.
I politely explained what the bowl is actually used for. The woman was quite receptive, although a little embarrassed as I explained it to her. She gave her son a brief apology and then followed it up with, “Don’t tell your father I made a mistake.”
As I made my purchase and left the store I was bothered by what this woman said to her son, “Don’t tell your father I made a mistake.” I realize it was probably made innocently enough, but I also knew I needed to unpack this a little bit. Why do we continually perpetuate the notion that as humans, we are not allowed to make mistakes? What’s worse is when we do make a mistake, we punish ourselves over and over for the same error.
As far as I can tell, part of our life experience here on earth is to make mistakes. I cannot see how we can evolve through our life if we aren’t gaining the wisdom and knowledge we acquire when we are in challenging times.
After reflecting upon this incident, I began realizing that having a different perspective on mistakes could be really beneficial, not only to myself, but to my daughters. In fact, I believe if we could share this with each other when we do fall down, the world would be a kinder, gentler place. I came up with my own “mistake manifesto.”
We are all going to make mistakes. It is part of being human and as natural as breathing. The sooner we accept this, the easier it will be to move through the difficult times.
It is important to take ownership of our mistakes. If there are apologies to be made, make them. It’s essential that they are sincere, timely and without conditions.
This is where I believe we sometimes go off the rails. I’ve heard people say you can’t say “but” after an “I’m sorry.” In a sense, I believe that is true, but it’s key to be aware of what we are apologizing for. If we inadvertently hurt someone through our actions, but we wouldn’t change what we did, we should be apologizing by saying something like “I’m sorry my actions hurt you.” That is very different from “I’m sorry I did that,” which implies that if we could go back and change history, we would.
We need to stay true to ourselves and remain authentic in our relationships. Did we make a mistake, or is someone merely unhappy with our decision? These are two very different scenarios.
Taking ownership of our mistakes does not mean we continually berate ourselves for our past indiscretions. Forgive yourself, and I really mean forgive yourself. Do whatever you need to do to move past any guilt or negative feelings. There really is nothing to be gained for feeling bad about ourselves. We are all doing the best we can. Perfection is a highly overrated ideal. To quote Brené Brown, “It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.”
Mistakes and failures are our greatest teachers. Try to stay awake and alert during this process as the universe is trying to impart wisdom upon us. It is a prime opportunity to further understand our beliefs, perceptions and where we need to grow. I use this one in the moments of complete dread when I realize I’ve screwed up. Asking myself what I can learn from this instance distracts me from beating myself up and feeling unworthy.
I read recently that a mistake is just that a “mis-take.” It is not failure. We tried and things didn’t go as planned, so we have a choice: we can give up, or keeping moving forward and do a “re-take.” On a movie set, it’s not a coincidence that they call each try at a scene a “take.” Imagine if, after trying a scene once and it not going as planned, the movie company decided to scratch the scene. Movies would become rather confusing as critical scenes would be deleted. Instead, they try another “take” at the scene.
We are all the lead role in an amazing movie called life. If a particular scene didn’t work the first time, try again, and as many times as necessary. Perhaps it’s important to your storyline, but it needed some adjustments.
If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t stretching ourselves and leaving our comfort zone. We aren’t finding out what and who we can become. When I look back over my life, it’s always the moments where I left my comfort zone and entered new territory that I remember the most. Yes, there were some ugly moments during those times, but I wouldn’t change the experiences if I could. Those are the juicy moments in life that make me feel truly alive. I will continue to risk falling flat on my face.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s the whole point.
Maybe when we are making mistakes, this is the universe’s way of telling us we are on track to getting what we really want. Anybody knows that the things in our lives that we fight for are the most rewarding when we get them. How many times do we hear “it’s the journey, not the destination”? We love the victory when we get up off the ground, dust ourselves off, put our shoulders back and continue forging ahead toward our dreams.
I think we all need to embrace mistakes, embrace them for what they are: signposts on the way to our dreams.
Author: Andrea Horvath
Editor: Catherine Monkman