“Mistakes are the portals of discovery” – James Joyce
It may not be confession time, but I will say it anyway. I spent the better part of the four decades on this planet in a human body berating myself for not being perfect. Eventually, it dawned on me that being intolerant of one’s mistakes and focusing on them in exclusion of the positives is a form of self-abuse. That was not how I wanted to relate to myself anymore.
Soon after this realization, I was talking to a friend about the idea of wanting to give myself the freedom to make mistakes. I wanted o eliminate the fear of it. Jokingly, he asked, “Who did you promise that you would be perfect? To God?” Ha! He laughed. I laughed. We went onto another topic, but that comment popped in my mind while I was preparing dinner.
I used my cooking time meditatively and brewed on the undocumented agreement I must have made to be perfect.
Who would I have made that promise to?
If I had not made that promise to anyone including ‘God’, why is it so hard to accept and forgive my mistakes?
At this point, I was still far away from the idea of celebrating my mistakes as proof of my ability to delve into the experience of life fully. I so wanted to get there.
Taking my friend’s question and running with it, I came up with three ideas that help me become free from the fear of making a mistake when it pops up. I have used these to forgive my mistakes as well. I hope that these simple steps I share will help you as well.
1. See your mistakes as creative attempts to satisfy your curiosity for life
Essentially, mistakes are our continuously improving attempts to taste life in different ways. We are here to experiment, try, taste, smell, fall, get up and dance, grow, and play. When we become adults, we rinse and repeat these experiences, but we learn from those mistakes. Life goes on.
Think about how exciting it is for a toddler to practice walking no matter how many times he falls before he can learn to walk on his own without help. The anticipation of the joy of walking beats the fear of the pain or the embarrassment a thousand times. Plus, the toddler has no stories about failure in his memory yet. The parents accept that falling is a part of learning to walk and do not berate the kid about it. The child learns to walk in joy, by falling and getting up with a determination and a smile. There is something to be learned from that process.
2. Review the agreement you made with the Universe
The truth is, if I was to never make mistakes, I would have to try nothing new or promise not to grow as a person. I can’t do either. How fun is life without trying new things and growing? I don’t remember signing an agreement with the Universe that says, “I vow to be good at everything and do everything perfectly”. It’s funny how we live as if we have.
Every time I make a mistake and catch myself taking my own self-love away, I remind myself of this truth. I re-affirm that I have not signed an agreement that I will never make mistakes. It is a practice and it is not perfect. We can all derive power from this truth.
3. Turn your mistakes into stories of wisdom and fun
You can build connections and even create a more fulfilling social life by sharing wisdom through personal stories. This isn’t about making conversations all about us but experimenting with healthy vulnerability and having fun with our mistakes. I have an embarrassing story to illustrate this point.
Twenty years ago, I got fired from my first job by my own hand.
It was the first time I had an opportunity to freely play with office equipment (including the internet). I didn’t have much experience with them, if any. During my lunch break, I typed up a letter to a friend and decided to send it to her fax machine (which I was told was in her private office).
I hit print several times, but nothing happened. I hadn’t checked to see if it was turned on. I didn’t think to do so. Coincidentally, it wasn’t on. I decided to wait for the secretary to come in the next morning to fix it. When the work day was over, I left everything as is.
The next morning, a few minutes after I arrived at the premises, I got called into my boss’s office. Immediately, he handed me the pink slip while saying, “This place is not stupid. This is where I make a living for my family”. OUCH! This time the pink slip was the one-page letter I had written to my friend.
I traced back what might have happened.
The secretary started the computers the next morning and the printer spit out 3 copies of the letter I wrote to my friend. I was complaining about the job and was saying that I was bored with it. I had never been fired before. I felt horrible. I felt disgraced. Even though I did not like the job, I did not expect to get fired in that way. I didn’t tell anyone about how I got fired for years. It was traumatizing.
Retelling it and making light of it healed my perception. It even invited other “Look, how I got fired” stories from those I shared it with. We felt a connection because we could be vulnerable without our masks.
It had another gift hidden in it: I realized that my employment history did not have to start out with roses and rainbows like it did for some people. That was OK. It belonged to me and this is part of the history that made me who I am today.
Looking back, I can see that this perspective applies to all my experiences. Being fearful of making mistakes does not and cannot prevent us from making them. It is much like expecting a baby to not fall while learning to walk.
Human life is an art form. If we are to become master artists of life, we need to let our experiences lead us to unexpected new discoveries. Those discoveries sometimes end up what we label as “mistakes”.
Dwelling on your past experiences that didn’t turn out gloriously will only prevent you from integrating the wisdom you gained from them.
Don’t carry your past as a box labeled as mistakes. Acknowledge them, sort them out, and take what feels true with you. Make amends. Declare who you are going to be from then on. Be that. Then go and make more discoveries. Some will be followed by mistakes. You will learn from them, too.
Beloved, go and make mistakes… It is your story. It won’t be like anyone else’s. The mistakes will be like confetti on that gorgeous cake that you will call your own.