We all have things we wish we hadn’t done, said, or even thought. And, while always doing your best is a great way to prevent future regrets, it’s time to talk about dealing with past mistakes. (And I’m not just talking about dodgy haircuts.)
We all make mistakes and, in general, I find that there are two different types:
- Those we make because we don’t know any better; and
- Those we make based on a belief that we can get away with the consequences.
But if we’re all making them, why do we still punish ourselves so severely?
Well, let’s look at the first type.
Dealing with past mistakes when we didn't know any better:
The problem here is that we have a tendency to view everything in black and white. Foods are either healthy or unhealthy, teams are either winning or losing, and decisions are either good or bad.
When presented with two options, we think one is right and one is wrong (even if we don’t know which is which). We agonise over every decision because we fear making the “wrong” choice when, in reality, there rarely is such a thing. If Option A doesn’t work out, it doesn’t mean that we chose poorly because, in truth, Option B could easily have turned out just as badly, or even worse.
None of us knows what the future holds (even Mystic Meg, I’d wager), so it’s pointless to beat ourselves up over a decision we made in good faith with all the information we had available to us at the time.
The truth is that not all decisions are good or bad. Not all options are right or wrong. Just because one decision brings disaster doesn’t mean the other would have brought success. Sadly, whether we know it or not, some options are just varying degrees of shit.
If something doesn't work out, guess what? You’ve successfully discovered how not to do it. (And sometimes, particularly with relationships, finding out what doesn’t work can be just as valuable as discovering what does.)
Never assume that, just because you didn’t get where you were hoping to go, the other path would have led you there. Maybe the way you went about it, while not getting you all the way, brought you as close as you could go.
If Thomas Edison can fuck up thousands of times and still be considered one of the greatest innovators of all time, you can afford a few “mistakes” too.
Dealing with past mistakes when you should have known better:
The second mistake is probably the most painful because we feel a failure. We did something against our better judgement and it came back to bite us in the arse. So how can we possibly feel better about it?
Well, the truth is we clearly hadn’t learned the lesson the first time around. Sometimes those small scuffs and near-misses aren’t enough to open our eyes to the dangers. Instead of making us more aware and alert, we feel invincible. We think we’ll always avoid disaster, or that, if it happened once, surely it won’t happen again.
That’s when the crash is necessary.
It hurts at the time, but sometimes a case of whiplash is what’s required to teach you to keep both hands on the steering wheel of life and keep your eyes peeled for oncoming traffic.
Things may have been bad, but they could also have been a shit-tonne worse.
The past can’t be changed so it’s pointless wishing otherwise. There are only two reasons you should ever look back:
- To see how far you’ve come; and
- To use your past experience to push you forward.
So never think in terms of “mistakes”, only in lessons learned. Some will be harder than others, but all are valuable. Realising you’ve erred means you can make the necessary adjustments in your life so you don’t spend the rest of it blundering from one bad decision to the next. If you hadn’t made those mistakes then, you’d still be making the same ones (or even bigger ones) now!
Personally, I’ve fucked up a lot along the way. I’ve lost a lot of things, including some self-respect, but who can tell how disastrously different my life would be if the universe didn’t grab me by the shoulders every now and again and give me a good shake.
I’m happy I made the decisions I did, because they’ve led me to where I am now. Yes, I’ve wished I could have learned the lessons an easier way but, in truth, sometimes you need to fuck up really badly to force you to rip up your foundations and build stronger ones.
I’d rather make mistakes and learn from them than build a life around them and then watch it all fall down around my ears.
So, whether it was the best decision you could have made with the information you had at the time, or whether you did something foolish when you should have known better, the fact remains that fretting about it means you’re not doomed to repeat it. (On the other hand, thinking you’ve never made a mistake is when you should really start to worry.) You can’t change the past, you can only accept it, learn from it, and let it strengthen you.
Remember that there is no black and white, only grey. Never assume that a different course of action would have led to a better outcome. It may not have turned out as you’d hoped, but it still may have been the best result possible.
Forgive yourself your mistakes, be grateful you didn’t make even bigger ones, and use the wisdom you’ve gained from them to forge a better future.
You may also be interested in: