Mistakes… Groan and Forget It

“It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes; it takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own.”  ― Jessamyn West

I don’t know at what point in my life mistakes became something which was to be feared, but it was early enough for me not to be able to recall it.

My mother was a perfectionist. That’s putting it mildly. I had to endure many hysterical outbursts and long lectures because of a broken glass or some other non-life-threatening banal incident. One minute of lateness often caused a nuclear meltdown, but we did not live in a nuclear power plant. Her fear of making mistakes, her desire to be perfect, made life hell for her and for others.

My father liked to keep a mental list of mistakes others had made and then remind them of such things when they had forgotten and finally relaxed enough to forgive themselves such a sin. He made many mistakes, but he didn’t consider them to be mistakes, they were tools of manipulation because he found that others liked to prove their worth to him by trying to fix his errors, and he found that those who consider themselves to be perfect are very vulnerable when you offer yourself up as someone to save from your own mistake-making self. Other people’s fear of mistakes was his way in to their minds, after that they were his puppets. His mistakes and the mistakes of others were opportunities.

“Groan and forget it.” ― Jessamyn West

I spent much of my life living in perpetual fear of making a mistake. It got so bad that I couldn’t move. I was paralysed with fear. I did nothing and thus remained in stasis, limbo, stagnating. One day, my mind snapped…. out of the paralysis of living in fear of mistakes and suddenly it dawned on me, light finally shining through the cracks in my stifling protective eggshell, that making mistakes was just a part of life. It was a part of the learning curve of existence. It was normal, natural, experimentation leading to knowledge which could lead to wisdom… and frankly many mistakes are not mistakes at all. It’s a matter of human judgment, opinion wearing the mask of fact.

That moment when mistakes lost their fear factor was a release from a self-inflicted imprisonment for me. Of course it took a while to live my new truth… but it was a while full of very insightful and fun freedom pursuing experiences. Fun as in I was finally living my life for myself, by my rules, discovering what it was all about for me, not living for others, by their rules, accepting a life was based on the experiences of others.

“I have done more harm by the falseness of trying to please than by the honesty of trying to hurt.” ― Jessamyn West

Why are we so afraid of making mistakes? Most mistakes are really quite harmless. Most mistakes actually lead us to other things which often turn out to be rather good for us. Some great scientific discoveries and advances in this and that have come from mistakes. Blessings in disguise. Mistakes themselves are good for us. Healthy treats wearing a wrapper of something else. Or at least that’s what history often shows us.

Okay, so making a mistake can kill you sometimes. So can not making a mistake. There is nothing which makes us deathproof. Being late for an appointment may save your life and you won’t ever find out. Being punctual may mean that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time even though it is supposedly the right time. Being in a hurry to be punctual for an appointment may not get you killed, but… it could end up hurting someone else. Ever been rude to someone you thought was delaying you from getting from A to B on time? Ever wonder what the consequences of your impatience were for others? How much does not making a mistake really cost us and others, I wonder. I imagine the death toll caused by not making a mistake is similar to the one caused by making a mistake, it’s just that we don’t count those. That’s statistics for you, a system which makes mistakes by omission.

“A rattlesnake that doesn’t bite teaches you nothing.” ― Jessamyn West

Yet we hate making mistakes and punish ourselves with regret, guilt and other thorns. Problem is that we never get to see the life we would have had had we not made the mistake, we only get to imagine some perfect ideal life which, if we’re really honest with ourselves, would not have happened anyway.

The life not lived, the path not taken, is an illusion, but a very alluring one. Why do we think that the life we would have had had we not made a mistake is really the life we would have had. What proof do we have to confirm this idea. Is the proof in the form of comparing our life to the life of someone else. But we are not that other person, and that other person probably feels that their life which we covet so much is not as good as the life of someone else which they are coveting.

“I am always jumping into the sausage grinder and deciding, even before I’m half ground, that I don’t want to be a sausage after all.” ― Jessamyn West

The funny thing is… when you make a mistake, especially the kind which leads to humiliation and embarrassment… that is a very powerful moment. Embrace it and you are crowned ruler of your empire. Try to escape from it into that hole in the ground you hope will open up and you are a prisoner in a very painful place of your own making.

People actually like you more when you are not perfect, when you make mistakes, because it makes you human, and we are all human. People who are perfect scare us because they are superhuman, and superhumans… aren’t really that interesting because we don’t relate to them as being one of us. Sure we admire them, but we do so from a distance, and we secretly hope they’ll topple off their pedestal. We love people who topple off their pedestal, brush themselves off, laugh at themselves and admit they’re human too.

“A taste for irony has kept more hearts from breaking than a sense of humor, for it takes irony to appreciate the joke which is on oneself. ” ― Jessamyn West