Making Mistakes: A How-To Guide

Dedicated to Madeline, Anthony and Savannah for being incredible friends in the good times and the bad. For loving me when I’m at my best and loving me just the same at my worst, but never letting me stay that way. I love you.

Hello, my name is Kristy, I’m 22 years old and I am horrible at making mistakes.

Forgiving myself after I do something stupid has never been my forte. I’m not one to bounce back quickly after making a poor choice. I will beat myself up over the slightest mistake for what feels like forever. “How could I be so dumb? I knew better than that.” I do anything even remotely out of character and all of a sudden I’m calling my best friend and painting myself to be the worst person to ever walk the Earth, only for my friend to say in the calmest voice, “I mean, honestly, what you did is pretty normal. I wouldn’t worry about it.” Meanwhile, I’m over here wondering what I’m going to have to do be redeemed after committing this horrible crime against myself (i.e. anything I do and later regret. You know, a thing most people deal with).

Whether you got a little too drunk, over-drafted your bank account or had a one night stand, you deal with the same feeling: regret. It may be at different levels, but it’s still regret. You still have to learn from it. You still have to figure out how to forgive yourself.

“But what if I can’t forgive myself?”

Well, I’m going to try to help you with that. I did something recently that I’d consider to be one of the bigger mistakes I’ve made so far in my life (granted, it’s really not that bad, it’s just something I’m not proud of). I had two choices: Work through it and forgive myself or let it eat me alive and fall victim to my own mental torture. I chose the former.

Forgiving yourself after making a mistake is a process, but I’m going to give you some steps you can take to work through it and come out better on the other side.

Before I jump into it, I think it’s important to point out that part of forgiving yourself is deciding not to put yourself in that same situation again. If you regret something the first time, you will most likely regret it the second time. It’s hard to forgive someone that gives you a half-ass apology. So be genuine with yourself.

Call someone you know for sure you can trust and tell them everything

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Trying to hide something that is eating you alive makes you feel like your chest is going to burst open. This is 100% not healthy. (It’s another reason I love therapy so much. Freedom to express ones self. No judgement.)

When I made my huge mistake, the first thing I did was call my best friend. I was so nervous. So worried about what she would think of me once I told her. I knew she loved me unconditionally and would never disown me over what I did, but still, fear gripped me. Her reaction? “There is nothing you could say that would make me hate you. You’re going to get through this.”

You need to surround yourself with people that are going to love you no matter what. People to remind you that making a mistake does not make you a bad person. It’s what you do after. You need people that remind you of your morals and values. To remind you what’s important to you when you feel like you’ve lost yourself in what you did.

Find someone you can talk to and tell them everything. Get it all out there in the open. It’ll make you feel better, I promise.

Know that it’s OK to feel guilt or shame

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I couldn’t manage to put a word to what I was feeling until a friend of mine said, “Shame. What you’re feeling is shame.”

Shame. I don’t think I’d ever used that word to describe an emotion I was feeling until that moment in my life. I had done something that made me feel shameful. Something so out of character for me that I almost couldn’t believe it happened. How could I have done this?

But then my friend elaborated, “Look, you made this decision and now you have to live with it. Now you feel shame. And that’s totally ok. Everyone does at one point or another. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means you’re human.”

You’re human. You are going to mess up. Then you’re going to feel like someone punched you in the stomach. Like you’re moving in slow motion. But it will pass. You will learn from this and let it go. You will move forward. But for now you feel shame. You feel guilty and that’s ok. I’d be worried if you didn’t.

You have to decide if this is going to be a big deal or not (Don’t let it be a big deal. Seriously)

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If you cheated on someone, that’s a big deal and should be treated as such. If you physically, verbally, emotionally, or sexually abused someone, how are you reading this you should be in prison, bye. But if no one got hurt, the world didn’t implode and your best friend still loves you… it’s not a big deal. Sure it might have been kinda bad, like snakes chillin’ in your house, but again, if the snakes didn’t bite anyone, everything is going to be just fine.

Yep, you made a mistake. Yeah, that really sucks. You feel shame. Ew. But hey, this thing that you did… it’s not a big deal. I know it feels like it. Trust me, I am the queen of “omgI-can’t-believe-I-did-that-I’m-going-to-hell.” It’s not a great place, I don’t recommend vacationing there.

But you have two choices here: make it a big deal or don’t. The one you pick determines how the rest of your life is gonna go.

Here’s what’s going to happen if you make this a big deal:

  1. The shame you’re feeling is only going to intensify
  2. The love and respect you have for yourself is going to take a HUGE hit
  3. You’re going to push away the people that love you
  4. You might just do it again

On the flip side, taking the situation for what it is and looking at it in the big picture is going to save you a lot of grief and allow you to learn from your mistake. Side effects may include:

  1. Allowing yourself the freedom of forgiveness
  2. Appreciating yourself more for being able to overcome adversity
  3. Building stronger relationships by being honest and vulnerable about your humanity
  4. Learning to slow down your decision making and being less likely to make the same mistake twice

So, seriously, say it out loud with me… it’s not a big deal.

Do something that aligns with your values

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When we make a mistake it is usually out of line with what we believe in or value. So take this time to refocus on what’s important to you. Listen to a friend that could use a good venting session (without making it about you or thinking about what you’re going to say next), go to church and pray, volunteer your time or resources, read a book that enlightens and inspires you. Do anything that makes you feel more like the honestly good person you are. Remember, mistakes don’t define you. It’s the action you take after that really shows your true colors.

Reflect on why it happened and what you’ll do to make sure it doesn’t happen again

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Sometimes we just mess up without any warning, but I find there is usually an underlying reason behind why we make certain decisions.

It’s totally possible you drank too much, spent too much, or went home with someone because you got caught up in the moment. It’s also possible that you’re still recovering from a traumatic event and made an alcohol fueled attempted to escape the pain.

Maybe you spent too much money because you thought the things you were buying would bring you happiness.

You slept with someone because you thought it would make you feel less alone.

Whatever the reason, it happened and now it’s in the past. You have a wonderful opportunity to grow from this experience. The next step is answering the question, “How do I make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

Have a trusted friend cut you off after so many drinks. Use cash instead of carrying your card everywhere so you have a limited amount to spend. Surround yourself with friends that truly care for you instead of seeking “one-night-only” lovers. Seriously, you’re never too old to have a sleep over with your bestie.

Also, if Britney can recover, baby, so can you.

Important side note: Please reach out to a professional if you are doing reckless things to fill a void in your life. You are all far too valuable and loved to be throwing yourself into escapism to numb your pain.

If you are having scary or suicidal thoughts please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It’s free, 24/7, confidential support. You can call them at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Please seek help.

Remember your worth and realize you’re not alone

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I mean this in the most loving way… you are not that unique. You are not the first person to make this mistake and you surely won’t be the last. You and I have probably made a lot of the same mistakes. I know this because we’re both human and humans do a pretty good job at messing things up often.

You owe yourself forgiveness and a chance to learn from this. This mistake doesn’t define you. You’ve made them before and you’ll make them again. Hopefully, not the same ones, but mistakes nonetheless. And you know what? You’ll learn and move on from them, too.

You’re still a good person. I still love you.

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