Anyone can look back on the past and point to a moment when you should have, could have, would have done something differently. From your present place in life, it’s easy to see glaring missteps, to beat yourself up, and replay them again and again as the years go by.
Most of us recognize when we’ve made mistakes (frustratingly, the realization is typically after the fact) and have collected a few regrets over the years.
What I’ve learned is that mistakes that teach a lesson are more valuable than getting it right sometimes, as strange as that sounds.Mistakes that teach a lesson are more valuable than getting it right.Click To Tweet
When Reality Intrudes on Make-Believe
A few years ago, I realized I was living in the midst of my past mistakes (and subsequent regrets). I was so caught up in everything I’d “done wrong” that I couldn’t focus on my now. Day after day, I mentally and emotionally flogged myself for being foolish and naïve, for making choices someone “with a brain” wouldn’t have made.
Basically, I punished myself for being human.
The day I let the past go – really let it go – and embraced my present was the day I stopped making excuses for why I wasn’t getting where I needed to be as a woman.
The human mind is a complicated and often mischievous construct. You might not realize the “script” you’re accidentally following for years…even decades. That’s the way it was for me. I was going through the motions, doing what I thought I had to do, but I wasn’t living my life.
I was merely inhabiting it.
Living a fulfilling life starts with self-talk. The way you communicate inside your own mind is the key to how you live your life outside of it.Living a fulfilling life starts with self-talk. Click To Tweet
For too many years, I allowed negative self-talk to riddle me with doubt, insecurity, and fear until I was like a deer in the headlights. Unable to move in any direction, even to save myself.
Every day, I completed the “routine” I’d developed. I interacted rationally with irrational people who were highly toxic, did work I didn’t enjoy, and didn’t consider my own goals or happiness.
I made excuses for those around me. I made excuses for doing a job I hated. I made excuses for not allowing myself the slightest peace, freedom, or self-fulfillment.
Not once did I ask myself, “Is this what I want? Is this what I need? Am I happy?”
The happiness and security of every person but me made my life insular. I didn’t see outside the bubble I created. Most days, I didn’t see the bubble at all.
Words such as responsibility, expectation, and obligation subverted concepts of individuality, self-love, and self-respect.
Always a person with confidence in my abilities, I charged through the dreamlike world I lived in. I owned it. I dominated it. I “succeeded” by most standards.
I was miserably unhappy even as I made my family, my friends, and my employers exceedingly content. I felt trapped even as I gave those in my daily life the freedom and skills to be and do whatever they envisioned. I found solutions to the toughest problems they faced but never once recognized the problems lurking just out of sight for me personally.
When it came to myself, I had a blind spot. Making excuses for how I felt even as I hid that truth from every person around me and pasted on a smile day after day.
I was my biggest obstacle. To be fair, I’m still my biggest obstacle.
When You Realize You Do Not “Got This”
One morning, I woke up and realized four decades of my life were over and I’d done nothing to secure my own safety, financial security, or future plans. I’d been so wrapped up in kids, spouses, jobs, and friends that I’d forgotten about myself.
The ultimate realization was a slap in the face. “Half your life is over…now what?”
People talk a lot about men and mid-life crisis. As the more emotional gender, I find it fascinating that no one talks much about women and mid-life crisis. I needed an outlet for my sadness, my anger, and my regret.
In 2010, at 39-years-old, I found myself without a job for the first time since I was a kid, with older children who wanted and needed less of my personal attention, and my chaotic marriage circling the drain.
I was lost and I was afraid. All the “white noise” that had filled my life was going quiet and there was nothing of me to fill the resulting silence. Who was I if I wasn’t raising children, tempering an angry spouse, or working to make my employer’s company more profitable?
Who had I ever been?
One morning, I gathered files in one place. They were on multiple computers and storage devices. I was awed to “discover” the millions of words I’d written over the years in between being a mom, a wife, and a worker bee.
A little here, a little there. A silly thing I did in my limited free time. Nothing important. Nothing special. It was a “hobby.”
I blinked in confusion at more than 100 files – some of which had been saved back when floppy disks were used in word processors with black backgrounds and green type. It represented three decades of words I’d never considered important.
Intuition Knows Best
While I was making excuses and going through the motions, my subconscious was working on an exit strategy and the key to the door was me.
I calculated a countdown clock based on the date my daughter and my step-daughter graduated high school. I created a list of (probably) 1,000 tasks I needed to complete before that date arrived and put a system in place to get things done. I stopped obsessing over the actions of a man who didn’t respect me and started focusing on myself.
Then I opened a new file, smiled at the cursor blinking against the page, and started to write.
It did not go off without a hitch. In a family unit of unique personalities, lots of passive-aggressive frustration, financial responsibilities, and human emotion…there were serious uphill days. Sometimes over that five year ticking clock, I didn’t even want to get out of bed.
I kept getting out of bed. I kept checking off one thing at a time on my list. I kept writing. I started a second business to survive.
There were times I felt such a sense of desperation and hopelessness that I almost went back to corporate accounting. There was even a small two-week period where I attempted to repair an irreparable marriage before I swiftly came to my senses.
I’m still not perfect and I still make mistakes. I often get it wrong. I don’t know everything and some personality traits are harder to overcome than others.
What I can say, with full confidence, is that today…I’m not making excuses. Not for my failures or my successes. Not for my good days or my bad ones.
I’m not deliberately and naively standing in my own way. I’m not quitting on my life, my happiness, my goals, or my individuality. I’ve regained my ability to love myself and respect myself.
Even when I have moments or days where the past rises up to haunt me, it no longer holds me hostage. My eyes are wide open and I see the future.
That’s the direction I’m headed and if you’re ready to take steps into your future, you can duplicate what I did and experience gradual – but very real – results in whatever area you’re looking to make change. Your overall health, professional goals, and even personal relationships will benefit from these simple steps.
- Decide what you want.
- Make a detailed plan of action.
- Check them off one by one (do small ones first for encouragement).
- Regularly re-evaluate your progress.
- Adjust as you go for “new” developments.
The biggest thing is not to give up. Once you start…just keep going until you reach the finish line you set for yourself. Some days will be harder than others but you can do this!
You can get out of your own way and change your life.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.