Mistakes. We all make them. Some are small and don’t really matter. Some can be huge and absolutely devastating. A mistake can change the course of your life. So how can we live with our past mistakes? How can we deal with the regret we feel?
I’ve made big mistakes in my life. Mistakes I have no choice but to live with. There are the years I wasted smoking too much marijuana and not being productive enough. There’s my failed marriage because I didn’t pay enough attention to my ex-wife. There’s the failed suicide attempt in my early 20s. There’s the people I let down throughout my years in one way or another. There’s…Actually, when I start to think about them, that list could get very long.
And that’s the thing. When you dwell on your mistakes it is all you are going to see. That pain of regret is all you are going to feel. Mistakes, and the regret you feel from them, won’t just pain you. They have weight. A weight that weighs on your very soul. They take that past and make it affect your present, even your future.
How do you live with your mistakes?
I think an important thing for anyone to realise is the fact you feel ‘bad’ about any mistake shows that you are actually a caring and considerate person. That there is a sense of ‘good’ within you. If you felt nothing for others you wouldn’t care about any perceived mistake.
You are not your mistake
A mistake doesn’t define who you are as a person. It’s not the be all and end all of who you are. It is something that has arisen from one action that has happened. One action out of the millions you will take in your life. It takes more than one action to define who you really are. Don’t let your mistake determine your self worth.
Be honest and accept your responsibility
There’s no point trying to hide from your mistake. Own it. Accept what you have done and try to learn from it. Think about how you were feeling before you made the mistake. Were you angry or upset? Was there a ‘trigger’ moment?
If there is a way to try and fix or improve the situation then you must make the effort to do so. If nothing else, this will give you some peace of mind that at least you tried to rectify your mistake.
Accept the past is the past
You can’t change the past no matter how much you want to. It’s done. It’s gone. It is what it is. You have to learn to accept that. Forgive yourself and anyone else involved. There’s nothing you can do about things that have been done. You have to learn how to let go.
“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it”Rick Warren – The Purpose Driven Life: What On Earth Am I Here For?
Look to the future
Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop dwelling on that past mistake. You need to make the decision to move on. If you have done all you can and it is still an issue then you need to start leaving it behind and focusing on your future. Your past can’t be undone but you can shape a new future for yourself.
And bear in mind all this is assuming that it was your mistake. What if it was something that had just arisen out of misunderstanding? Where you and someone else took the wrong meaning from something. Both felt insulted and couldn’t understand why the other reacted in the way they did. Whose mistake is it then? Is it yours to dwell on or theirs? Maybe both of you. Perception can be a funny one-sided thing.
Sometimes we can blow the extent of the mistake out of proportion. While we may think it is something massive, someone else might consider it something minor. It’s better to know just how severe the mistake actually is before you really let it get to you.
How Do You Live With A Huge, Life-Changing, Mistake?
Obviously there are bigger mistakes. Mistakes where a horrible action has taken place. There’s a reason we have jails after all. These mistakes can have profound effects on all the people involved. They have the power to ruin people’s lives.
There’s only two real paths for mistakes like that. You let that mistake ruin your life. Or you try and live with it and move on. Easier said than done.
For example, I have an old friend. Someone who played a big part in my growing up. He was a skateboarding buddy. (There were only 4 of us in the small town I grew up in). Because of him I have many wonderful memories from that time.
Thing is, he fell of the rails, and fell hard. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol. He took hallucinogenic mushrooms which triggered a mental disorder that ran in his family. His ongoing problems led him down a dark path which resulted in him stabbing someone he was trying to rob. He did some jail time for that. Everyone in our town turned agianst him.
I haven’t seen him in a few years. The last time we met he was in a rehabilitation centre and was being medicated with pyschotropic drugs. The guy has major issues. Yes, he made a lot of mistakes. Big mistakes. Yes, he’s living with those mistakes.
You know what though? When we talk he’s the same person to me he ever was. He never took any of his probelms out on me. He has even mentioned that he respects the fact I talk to him the same way I have always done. I’m not looking at the mistakes he has made. I’m seeing the person beneath. The person who has always been good to me no matter how much he has struggled mentally.
I’m seeing a flawed human that has got lost. A person whose mistakes have cost him a lot. None of us are perfect. Some much less so than others. So why are we so damn unforgiving?
The outcome of such a huge mistake means that your life will change. That change may not be what you want. It may make things a lot more difficult. But life is always changing. And if you can learn from that mistake you can turn it, and yourself, into something much greater. Like a reformed drug addict who helps others to quit drugs. Life can always get better. It can always improve.
When affected by a mistake
When someone makes a mistake that we are affected by we take it as a great insult. We are horrified that a person’s view or action about something can be so out of sync with our own. Then we get angry, then stubborn. That simple mistake gets blown into something of greater proportions and can lead to the breakdown of relationships, friendships, even families.
In some cases you may have to accept that the people involved just weren’t meant to be in the movie of your life. There were just bit parts in a few scenes. As sad as that can be not everyone who is, or was, in your life is going to stay in it forever.
In others, maybe we should try and see that mistake for what is was. Maybe that person has learned from that mistake. Maybe it will never be repeated again. Maybe it contained a lesson they had yet to experience.
“Never be embarrassed by mistakes, rather, be thankful for them, because they always present an opportunity for personal growth”Donald L Hicks – Look Into The Stillness
Also, as I said at the start. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. They are as much a fact of life as death is. So why are we so damned hard on each other when a mistake is made? Why do we let one little word or action determine how we feel about the person that said or did it? We can stop speaking to someone. Remove them from our life. Just because of something they said or did. We define that person due to one action. An action as we have already seen that doesn’t define them as the person they are.
Look, I’m not preaching here. I’m just as guilty as everyone else who is quick to blame people for their mistakes. I’ve made a bad one within this past week that I have yet to try and resolve. Why? Because, like others, I fear what the response to that will be. I feel I have damaged a relationship even though that was not my intention. I feel that damage may be irreversible. A broken plate put back together will still have cracks. It will never be the same.
But I’m not going to leave it at that. I’ll make my efforts. See what happens. Then move on accordingly. That’s all any of us can do. Dwelling is not going to help. I dwelled enough on my failed marriage to learn that lesson.
All we can do is learn what we can. Keep moving on with our lives. Hopefully, make less mistakes. At the very least don’t repeat the same ones. We have enough to carry in our hearts and minds never mind the weight of our mistakes and failures. Put that weight to one side. Stand up straight. And walk on. We’re only human after all.
P.s. If you are having trouble with past mistakes and they are affecting your life please seek professional help.