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I made a mistake

See right there? That’s the first step: admitting the mistake.

I walked away from a conversation last week feeling uneasy. Angry actually. It didn’t go well. My first reaction, as usual, was to blame the other person. But as I tried to explain away the discomfort in my head as the other person’s fault, it didn’t go away. It’s often like this. And if I stay with it and remember that I’m supposed to practice humility, I often come to that bittersweet conclusion: I made a mistake. It was me who messed up.

I hate that. Opening the gates of regret. Having to admit, even if only to myself, that I was at fault. Embarrassed. Wishing I could take something back. Wanting an impossible do-over. That’s the bitter part.

The sweet part is that now I have a way out. Because I admitted the mistake, there IS a path to peace. I know that if I do something about my mistake, I will be able to move forward untethered.

1. Sometimes the thing that I have to do is to simply admit my mistake out loud. If I use the wrong gender pronoun for instance, I’ve learned to immediately acknowledge the mistake and move on. Sometimes it’s making a statement to your team or your family. Sometimes it’s called a confession, or a fifth step. Just saying your mistake out loud to another human being can be hugely freeing.

2. Sometimes the thing I have to do is make an apology. With a degree of reverence or formality I say words directly to someone who was harmed by my mistake. It’s a way to let them know I noticed, and that I wish it hadn’t happened that way. A genuine apology doesn’t care if it’s accepted or not. It’s not conditional in any way. A genuine apology is never followed with a but.

3. Sometimes the thing that I have to do is to make an amend; make an offer to fix the mistake, and follow through. Sometimes it means you have to pay for something or actually take responsibility for something. Sometimes the problem that you caused can’t actually be fixed because someone’s not around or perhaps raising an old wrong with someone might do more harm than good. A solution here is to give time or money to a cause related to the mistake you made. Perhaps you can’t make peace with a person from the past but you can help other people in the future. I like the term “living amends.”

4. Sometimes I simply make a vow. A promise. A prayer to my future self: “Don’t ever make that mistake again!” But it’s more than just saying that once in a fit of frustration, it’s actually imagining future scenarios over and over again and imagining myself NOT making that mistake. I work at it. I try to train my brain to be different in the future. I actually practice different words in my head; the words I will use next time. I can’t change the past but I can try my best to turn that mistake into a lesson learned.

For me, realizing that I have made a mistake often comes with guilt and anguish. My mind races about it. What I should have done differently? What does someone think of me now? What’s really behind what happened? My neck and back muscles tighten. I think about it WAY too much.

And for me, the solution is usually to turn that nervous energy into actually doing something about it. I work hard to accept what happened and then I try to focus on what I need to do to feel okay about what I did. I turn from the past to the future. And do something.

The hard part of admitting a mistake is the voice from within that says: “Damn. It’s true. I did a bad thing. I wish I could have that moment back.” The wonderful part of admitting a mistake is that it’s the first step towards making peace with it. In fact, I can’t actually make peace with my mistakes if I’m not willing to say they exist.

I made a big mistake last week. Really. It brought me to tears. Writing this is one of the things I’m doing about it.

8 thoughts on “I made a mistake

  1. I like your post in general, and there are two things that trigger me.
    I do not use the word apologize. That tends to put things in good/bad, right/ wrong thinking – that I did something wrong and someone else has the power over me to forgive me. I did nothing wrong. I simply did the best I could with the consciousness I had at that moment. Instead, I use the word “acknowledge.” I acknowledge, without self-blame, what I did, what I understand to be the impact of what I did, and my regret/sadness that I did not meet my own needs for integrity in my behavior or for contributing for the wellbeing of others or whatever else I may be sensing.
    The deepest amends for me is to hear the impact of my behavior on others and to reflect back what I have heard until the other person feels confident that I understand the impact. Other amends may arise from that.
    My other comment is about making a vow never to do something. I say tate your intentions in the positive – what you intend to do rather than what you intend not to do. You are more likely to make progress when you seek than when you avoid. State your intentions, which acknowledges you won’t always succeed, and intentionally review your progress. Vows are so total (as in “never”) that they are often broken. Making vows when one knows that they are likely to break them does not met meet my test of integrity. Trust is built on many interactions, not on one misstep and apology.

  2. Even though I have strong political opinions I never get upset when someone disagrees with me. Why? Because people who argue with their emotions rather than the facts of the issue have a tendency to get angry. They get angry because they can’t defend their position. When you realize the person is arguing with their emotions rather than the facts, my rule is: Let them have the last word.

  3. I think there are two components to an authentic apology. One is thinking of the other person rather than saving face. The other is an offer to make restitution or change something in your behavior if either is appropriate. I don’t agonize over it because not being perfect is part of being human. What you choose to do after you err is the potential game changer.

    1. Well Hello Jules!
      Thank you for sharing your wisdom in this public place.
      And of course I love what you say about the two components of an apology. Especially: “thinking of the other person rather than saving face.”
      Send me a picture of Tobago!
      Wait. Is that your cat’s name?

  4. This is a post that I will keep on file. Everyone is human and will make mistakes even as we try not to do so. I especially appreciate your four steps about doing something after making the mistake. That is really useful!

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