We all make mistakes. You might realize you’ve messed up right away or it can take years to figure it out. No matter what, when you get the memo that things have taken a turn for the worse, your reactions can range from fury to intense sadness to embarrassment.
“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” ~ Bruce Lee
Learning from mistakes is a talent you can learn. It won’t make the actual misstep any less negative but it can help you guard against making the same one twice. You must avoid repetition at all costs.
I’m something of a slow learner, I admit. My mistakes usually involve gambling on the wrong people. Rather than reality, I see potential in people that “I know” I can help them achieve.
Three divorces later, I have finally figured out that I can’t make someone else do what’s best for their life or their future. I can’t force them to see how amazing their existence can be. I can’t compel them be accountable, mature, or ambitious.
Never Make the Same Mistake Again…
It’s a painful and disappointing realization; one that has taken me almost four decades to figure out. I’ve made so many mistakes, learned my lessons, and I’m stronger for those experiences.
Step One: See the brutal reality of the situation.
Don’t candy-coat it, don’t employ selective memory, and don’t make excuses for anyone involved (including yourself). Look at the mistake in cold, harsh light and see it for what it is. Examine it from all angles, pick it apart, confront it, and let it bleed.
This part is the most painful. You might see things about yourself that shock and upset you. For myself, I realized my perpetual “Pollyanna Syndrome” was the equivalent of rose-colored glasses. I knew specific truths but I made excuses about why I couldn’t act on them.
I was also ruled by fear that was completely unfounded when I look back. I worried about being able to support my kids, if I’d have to give up my writing, and what other people would think. As a result, I thought myself in circles for almost a decade.
Since I consider myself an intelligent, independent woman with a host of efficient life skills, seeing my blatant disbelief in myself in hindsight caused me severe hurt.
Step Two: Accept full responsibility for yourself.
Whether it was your mistake or simply that you missed signs of another person’s errors, this step is necessary for personal healing. See what you could have done differently, note what you’ll change going forward, and don’t cut yourself any slack.
This part is very often humiliating. I had prior knowledge that I disregarded, purposefully overlooked, based on my certainty that I could affect positive change. When others cautioned me, I responded, “It won’t be the same with me. This situation is unique.”
My situation was not unique. I willingly allowed myself to be sucked into another person’s lifelong pattern of bad behavior. Me being “awesome” didn’t change the outcome or the fact that I could have prevented it had I used logic side-by-side with my emotion.
Step Three: Now leave it in your past.
See the experience, embrace everything it taught, and put it behind you. You aren’t in that place anymore. You aren’t living that moment in your life now. That was then and it doesn’t belong in your now.
This is the hardest part. You might even fight it, holding the anger or hurt close to your chest to protect it from being pulled away. The result of holding onto past mistakes is an inability to engage in your present.
By dwelling on it, you keep yourself in that place emotionally and mentally, unaware that time is still passing and so are your opportunities for new experiences and happiness. You judge all new people and situations by that closely held hurt because it goes everywhere with you. It results in misery and bitterness that will stunt how you grow.
Free Yourself from the Past – Take the Knowledge with You
To learn from your mistakes and put them behind you breaks the chains that you might not even realize are shackling you. Acceptance, accountability, and forgiveness of your frailties will free you in ways you cannot even imagine.
I’ve done well evaluating, accepting, and letting go of the mistakes in my childhood, my twenties, and my thirties. At almost forty-four, I still have work to do. While I’ve learned some valuable lessons that will stay with me and I’ve acknowledged my own role in the problems I’ve faced, I struggle to put recent hurts behind me.
I know that I’ll eventually have closure and be able to look back without feeling sadness, disappointment, and anger. It’s a process with which I am quite familiar.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” ~ Johnny Cash
Recognition, acceptance, and forgiveness (of yourself and others) are the keys to learning from mistakes you made yesterday or twenty years ago. With practice and focus, I’ll get there. You can, too.
Your true happiness, gratitude, and joy depend on it.
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.