The Truth About Mistakes
Some lessons are quick. Painful, but quick. Others are slow. Brutally so.
When we pick up the ego’s paintbrush and manically, obsessively, repetitively paint over something in our lives we don’t want to look at, we’re burying a big life lesson. Always.
We come up with incredible and incredibly convincing narratives about what’s going on, our motivations, other people’s roles or their motivations (as if we could know, we barely know our own). We assign blame to fate and circumstance, so we can hide our accountability beneath external events and walk away pretending we didn’t play a part. We are avoiding a touchy subject: our mistakes.
There’s a lot of negative energy around mistakes. And a lot of time and energy that goes into avoiding them, combatting them, ignoring them, or hiding them. We tend to categorize entire chapters of our lives as mistakes, instantaneously and permanently judging them – and ourselves - as a failure.
Then we don’t look back. But we haven’t transcended the mistake. We’ve only buried it under shame, guilt, judgement or fear. We’re resisting the very thing that holds our redemption.
"Mistakes are the portals of discovery" ~ James Joyce
EXPERIENCE IS NOT A MISTAKE
When we judge an experience as a mistake, we aren’t open to the lesson contained in it because we’ve already decided that it “went wrong” or “is wrong” and leave it at that.
Or, put another way, we aren’t open to exploring what happened – without judgement - with a different perspective. The perspective of ‘what didn’t go according to our preferences and expectations’ rather than the perspective of a mistake, wrong, bad, failure, etc. It’s a perspective of curiosity versus blame.
When something doesn’t go the way you planned or hoped for, is it a mistake?
When situations, circumstances and people change, is that a mistake?
When something is no longer good for you and you know it, and do something about it, does that negate what led up to it, and classify the whole experience as a mistake?
Are any of these absolute truth?
For many years, I held the shameful belief that I made a mistake in getting married, in staying for as long as I did, in not asking for help, in not confiding in anyone about my misery, and many more ‘mistakes’. I looked back on everything as proof that I did something ‘wrong’. I believed I had made terrible mistakes and that as a consequence, that I was a terrible person.
I made a dangerous and destructive assumption - that when something doesn’t go the way you expect it to go and you admit it or do something about it, that it automatically implies you’ve made a mistake, that mistakes are bad, mistakes are punishable, and that your worth or your value is diminished because of them.
How many of us - probably everyone - feel like we can’t make mistakes? Notice how you go through your day and your life trying to avoid them. Trying to avoid other people’s opinions or judgments about your mistakes. How exhausting is that?
We’re taught from a young age that mistakes are ‘bad’ and to avoid mistakes at all costs. We grow up with this constant fear of making a mistake. We are conditioned to avoid mistakes, and we often resort to hiding them if we think that admitting to a mistake will result in punishment of any kind - emotional, psychological or physical.
I’m not saying that there are no mistakes. Of course we get things wrong. Of course things will not be done according to plan, preference or strategy. Of course we need to be mindful, thoughtful, careful. Of course.
What I’m saying is that we cannot hold ourselves in shame, blame or guilt for making a mistake. And we certainly cannot hold ourselves in emotional turmoil for making choices or decisions that didn’t work out.
We cannot make the dangerous assumption that if something ends, it is a mistake. Or that the entire experience was a mistake.
I’ve learned, from re-telling the story of leaving my first marriage, that I was allowing the concept of mistakes and what they implied to keep me down through shame and guilt. This meant that on a subtle level, energetically, I wouldn’t allow myself to experience joy or happiness fully because I was a ‘bad person’. I was unconsciously punishing myself - constantly.
It was like there was a voice somewhere telling me, “you shouldn’t be enjoying yourself” or “you don’t deserve to feel good” or “you can’t really have this kind of love” … especially as it relates to my husband and soulmate, Andrew.
I realized that, while we’ve been together for many years and my heart sings for him, somewhere inside of me, I wasn’t allowing myself to fully experience the joy of our love. I was dimming the light of love with shame! I speak about it on this podcast episode.
I had to face that truth with deep compassion. Because the natural, knee-jerk reaction to the realization was more shame!
What does deep compassion toward myself look like? Like the truth.
The truth about my first marriage is, I tried. I tried hard in so many ways. I tried to make it work. I tried to be a perfect wife. I tried to live up to expectations. I tried to fit into the culture in Italy. I tried to find a career that would fit my ambitions. I tried to be ok with settling down. I tried to find fulfillment. I tried to find my place in the world and the life I had chosen. I tried to not be a burden to others. I tried to be strong for others. I tried to be strong for myself. I tried not to hurt anyone. I tried to protect others. I was protecting myself, emotionally. Because I was scared and didn’t know who to turn to for help.
I tried to find happiness. I looked everywhere for it. I looked everywhere except within. I wasn’t asking the right questions. I didn’t go deep enough. I was looking in the outside world. Meanwhile, it was right there, in plain sight the whole time. It was in my psyche, my shadow, and my Soul. It was inside of me.
For all those years - YEARS - I blamed and judged myself for all the things I got wrong. How many things did I get wrong? Pretty much everything. I got everything wrong! I made so many mistakes. I could live the rest of my life in a face palm if I let myself stay stuck there. If I let myself stay stuck in the mindset that mistakes are all bad, all mistakes should be avoided, and mistakes reduce my sovereignty and my self-worth.
Let me tell you a secret now. A more important secret than the shameful secret that I buried in my heart for years. It wasn’t a mistake. That first marriage and all the things I got “wrong” - all the fumbles and falls, bruises and scars. None of them were mistakes. They were lessons. Not mistakes.
The only mistake I made is that I judged myself. This inner judge, which we all have and is an aspect of ego, is not going away.
Here's another truth. Judgement creates separation within the Self. Every time we judge ourselves we are creating a rift in the Soul. We are creating a rift between our heart and our mind. We are in conflict, internally. And that conflict causes anxiety, insecurity, and constant tension. When we don’t feel whole, we don’t feel safe. And when we don’t feel safe, we react out of fear of being hurt.
So, we need to do something about it. Because, unfortunately, the inner judge is running rampant in our minds and ruining our experience of life. The inner judge is harsh.
We judge ourselves for being human and living our lives, for trying and failing, for trying - again and again. For persisting and insisting that we are meant to have happiness, joy, abundance and fulfillment.
THE EGO’S PREROGATIVE
Our decisions and the lessons they contain are never mistakes. It’s only our ego that judges them that way.
The ego wants to maintain that picture-perfect life. That static, ‘no mistakes here’ painting! A painting of apparent emotional safety. An unrealistic task because the universal truth is that everything changes. And we can’t try to hide from change.
We can flow with change or be buried by the consequences of denying it. We can accept ourselves, and our mistakes – re-labeling them as lessons, and move toward a fearlessness of living. Because we’re not afraid to empower ourselves to live the way we want to live.
How does it feel to know that everything you thought you got wrong was not wrong at all?
How does it feel to know that you can make one of the most important shifts of your life by letting go of the thought that you made mistakes and that mistakes are cause for judgment and/or punishment?
Where can you forgive yourself, right now, and begin to let go of the weight of your own judgment?
Where can you feel compassion toward yourself, right now?
When we accept that what we judge as bad mistakes can be redefined to be life lessons, we shift our perspective. A shift in perspective - from ego-driven to heart-centered, from thought-based to intuitively-guided. We can redefine a word and reposition a concept to be conducive to our growth. We can drop a limiting belief like a shriveled grape out of a bunch of fresh, juicy, life-enhancing beliefs.
LIVING OUR MISTAKES
We can begin to live. Live with our ‘mistakes’. Knowing we’re who we are because we made the choices we made, good or bad, right or wrong. We made decisions. We made choices. And we will continue to make more choices. Some will turn out to give us a reason to feel good. Others will not turn out the way we expected.
The choice of whether something causes us suffering because it didn’t go the way we wanted or is uncomfortable, is entirely up to us. That’s the power of making a conscious decision and taking responsibility for it. That’s empowerment.
The most important thing is that we honor who we are, in every single moment, especially the most difficult ones.
Do you have a big lesson? A five, nine, or ten-year lesson? Maybe longer? Are you in the middle of it, or is it a lesson from the past that you dwell on, or that holds onto you emotionally? It’s a Soul lesson.
How much longer do you want to dwell in this place where you are now? How much more exciting and meaningful and fulfilling could our lives be if we honored ourselves and made decisions that expressed the truth of who we are inside? At the level of the depth of our Soul.
Honoring myself through the process of speaking, sharing, writing, or presenting my stories and my lessons helps me to see my past, and myself, in a more empowering way. Honoring myself, including the me who made those decisions years ago honors my ability to make better decisions now, and in the future.
Honoring myself, by compassionately re-experiencing that defining moment, everything that led up to it, and what I’ve learned from it, has been a gift from my Soul. It’s been a gift I’m still unwrapping, the deeper I go in my process. And it’s a gift that I feel compelled to share. We learn from each other. My story healed me. Our stories heal us. Our stories heal each other.
The lessons in our stories are universal, beyond time and space. And this is why there are no mistakes. Because there’s always a lesson for someone – for many of us – in the experiences of each person and each person’s journey of life.
Whatever we’re learning, we each have our own unique trajectory and timeline for those lessons to unfold and for our journey on the spiral of life to turn the infinite corner.
May we view ourselves as beautiful, perfectly in-progress beings who are seeking to express their greatest potential. May we anchor into self-love, self-compassion and non-judgment for the benefit of All.