I hate it when I make a familiar mistake.
And yet, at the age of 53, I am keenly aware that most of my missteps and frailties are familiar ones by now. I have enough experience, wisdom and self-knowledge that I rarely, if ever, make a totally innocent, fresh mistake. For me, at this stage in life, the missteps I make at work and at home are much more often an echo of painful lessons I wish I had learned by now. Here are some familiar messages going on in my head these past decades:
- “Darn it, I wish I could get a handle on my schedule so that I never feared missing an appointment or showing up late.”
- “I wish I had addressed the money or contracting issues sooner because now it feels like I am gingerly stepping around landmines.”
- “What is wrong with me that I don’t say no more often to projects or tasks that are not my highest and best use?”
- “What will it take for me to start exercising every day again?”
- “Did I really say too much in this meeting, again?”
I am quite sure I am not alone in feeling that on some days, I simply cannot get out of my own way. For any leader, employee, or in fact human being, making mistakes is part of life, but in the digital world of Instagram selfies and Facebook stories, it is easy to believe that we are the only ones making them.
Sometimes, I lapse into shame and beat myself hard around the ears with private messages of unworthiness, incredulous at my own seeming inability to learn to be a better __________(fill in the blank: person, mother, wife, business owner, consultant). My internal voice in these moments is nasty. She shrews and rails and whines at me from just there on my shoulder. She taunts me with recrimination and regret and threatens me not to DARE to move or achieve or risk or love because I deserve a talking to.
I am happy to say that more and more, in part as a result of my work with Dr. Brené Brown’s ground breaking research about the costs of shame in micro and macro ways, and in part as a result of pure time on this earth and the wisdom that comes from hard knocks and lessons in resilience, I am finding new tools for my own foibles.
Here are a few:
- Listen to my intuition (really listen) and act on it.
Those times when I have ignored what my gut is telling me almost always have played out badly. Shutting down my own natural responses is in fact shutting down my emotional connectedness, my intelligence, and my wisdom born from experience. Why would anyone want to do that?
- Self-compassion is empathy for myself.
I am naturally gifted at empathy and truthtelling with others. Uttering words of care, love, tenderness, forgiveness, and compassion to myself are ways I can walk my own talk, and when I do it authentically it helps.
- Nobody else has the secret recipe for doing it perfectly so I can let myself off the hook for those (many) times I do it imperfectly.
When did I start making up the notion that others had all this messy life stuff wired, and that I didn’t get the memo? True-that: there is no memo, and my world of entrepreneur, mother, wife, friend, consultant, etc. is more messy than tidy, and there really are no instructions.
- Noticing my own lurch into feeling like a wreck of a human being is key to my refraining from jumping into the pool of self-flagellation.
I can and should stop just short of the cliff-edge. When I get triggered, I start hustling, and hustling for feeling worthy is never pretty, rarely real, and feels like sh**.
5. Adventure has been my friend always, and big risk has big possibility.
I have, since I was a little girl, pushed myself to extreme pursuits and scary stuff from acting to mountaineering, to whitewater, to horseback riding, to start-up business. I know the benefits of just jumping in. When I make mistakes, it is often because I am trying hard, living big, and putting it on the line. Remember this about me when I die.
6. Comparing myself to others is a bad idea. Always.
I have a book in me about this, and it is starting to come out, because it is a prevailing curse of women in particular, and Western Society in general, that I think drives a whole sequence of bad results. I need to stop comparing myself.
We love ripped jeans, distressed wood, and old cards. We cherish memories of poignant reality with people we love. We worship hard work and sweaty toil. This journey we call life and this enterprise we call work is at its best, controlled chaos and unbridled joy and achievement.
Mistakes are simply part of the process, ingrained in the fabric of everything real.