The Blessing of a Mistake

The Blessing of a Mistake

How many times have you engaged in a mental game of self-flagellation over making a mistake, running the scenario over and over in your head, as if by doing so it will somehow finally result in a more appealing ending? I know I sure have, but the ending never changed, I just ended up feeling like I had contracted into a little ball and sometimes wanted to simply hide from the world, or at least from those who knew about my error! It was as if I had made some kind of perfectionist contract with myself that stated very clearly in black and white – ‘No mistakes will be tolerated!’ 

Having repeated this pattern of mentally and emotionally beating myself up for making a mistake and seeing how it changed nothing, but only resulted in lower self-worth, guilt and shame, I began to really question the reasoning of this approach. It literally felt like I was torturing myself with this negative self-talk and repetition of the mistake laden scenario. Another potential by-product of this pattern is that we live our lives as if we are walking on egg shells, terrified of making mistakes and timid about engaging in new challenges that we are unfamiliar with that could be offering us growth in our lives.

Only after observing co-workers going through the same types of situations making some costly and potentially dangerous mistakes while performing maintenance on aircraft, was I able to come to a level of acceptance of my own past errors that were in a similar category and had haunted me in a way that limited my confidence and trust in myself.  

It was in this moment that I saw clearly how there is no perfection in life and the actions I deemed as mistakes along the way offered me a chance to pause, re-evaluate what the quality of my daily movements were that lead to the mistake and take responsibility for my actions while renouncing what truly had not supported myself or others. I could then simply look at my mistakes as an opportunity to learn from these observations and move on with the understanding that on a deeper level even the word ‘mistakes’ brings with it a sense of negation or contraction of our true self. In a way, mistakes do not really exist, for they are really only experiences in our lives that are a result of our choices. When these choices result in an accident or harm to others in any way, it offers us the chance to be honest about our part in the matter and be willing to accept the consequences, no matter how serious, but without any self-judgement or berating of ourselves, which only hinders our ability to simply learn from the experience with acceptance.

It was with the above knowing that I was now equipped to work and be in a more qualified position to offer guidance to others regarding similar experiences and avoid the same error myself in the future, that eventually turned these situations into ones I no longer needed to fear and loathe. It’s amazing what a change of perspective can do for us! This also brought with it a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation for others when I let go of any belief of perfection in life. More on this topic later. 

But there was a deeper issue to unravel here, one that got to the heart of why we hold on to this fear of mistakes and the negative connotation of them in our lives. There is a sense that we don’t want to allow ourselves to appear vulnerable, as if by doing so we would reveal to others that we aren’t intelligent or successful enough in some way and perhaps do not live up to expectations that either we or our family members have imposed upon us. By this measure, taking responsibility for making mistakes in life can sometimes be difficult for people as they deem it a weakness rather than the potential for growth that it truly holds.

When we are sold the view of life being about personal financial and material security, and that we basically have ‘one shot’ to ‘get it right’ in education, future employment and even marriage – this notion of not allowing ourselves the space to make mistakes is born, and along with it comes a whole lot of nervous tension, anxiousness, and stress in our bodies. I can still remember the hours I spent berating myself for getting one or two questions wrong on a school test that resulted in me receiving something like a 96% or 98%! How crazy is that? And all this without being pressured at all by my parents to get good grades. It was all self-induced and based on a belief that mistakes were signs that I was not good enough in life. But what if we considered that this life is actually just part of a continuum of lives, each one being an opportunity to deepen our connection back to our soul, and which entails a trial and error learning process along the way, as we begin to understand what truly supports us and what takes us further away from where we are originally from…God. Although this notion may seem more foreign to Western countries, it is quite common in Asian ones. 

The pressure we place on ourselves to not make mistakes can be massive and can lead us towards a tendency for perfectionism in a constant quest to prove our worth to our parents, teachers and friends. Our current education system actually reinforces this with its approach that is based on such extensive testing, grading and classifying of various ability levels. When kids grow up feeling that the main attention they get is for the mistakes they make at home or what they got wrong on a test or school assignment it can really exacerbate this phobia of mistakes. No wonder we many times fail to see the blessing of growth and learning that is disguised in our errors, and only by taking responsibility for creating our own emotional issues (in a self- understanding way), without blaming those around us, will we be able to then let go of the intolerance we have for others when they make similar mistakes. 

All we have to do is look to Nature to see that nothing on this planet is 100% efficient or perfect in any way. Does a cheetah always catch the gazelle she is chasing? Do fledgling birds fly away from their nests effortlessly on their very first try every time? And do squirrels always land perfectly without fail when they jump from tree to tree? The answer to all these questions is an obvious ‘Of course not!’ Even though we are not animals, maybe they are showing us something about ourselves, in that we are most certainly not perfect and on the contrary, every time we make a mistake, we gain a little bit more information and thus experiential wisdom on how to move in this world that we can then build upon when we see these mistakes as opportunities. A world where mistakes abound is one that indicates to us that these ‘hiccups’ are a fundamental aspect of our human development. They are indeed our teachers, guiding us by providing a constant feedback of what is the true and harmonious way, whether in relationships, work, or family life, even though they should never define us.  

Mistakes are merely occasions for us to renounce what has not truly supported ourselves and to learn and grow from these experiences. But when we demonize our mistakes, we allow ourselves to be diminished and far lesser than our naturally joyful selves who can trust that life in all its imperfection is our guide, and that mistakes are an integral part of this giant temporary ‘school’ we call Earth, with the knowing that our true origins lie elsewhere.

Any mention of workplace situations in this blog do not involve my current employer. 

The Prison of Conditions

The Prison of Conditions

After recently volunteering to work as a mentor for children coming from challenging life situations (which involved a comprehensive interview process to determine a good match between the mentor and child), it was relayed to me that many previous mentors were not willing to work with kids who had poor manners or were not as polite as it was thought they should be.

Now this really struck me as being not only an odd response, but a position that seemed to not get the whole point of being a role model to these kids who many times have been physically, emotionally, and even sexually abused and come from impoverished neighbourhoods with very little familial support or guidance. Although everyone has a right to choose what they are comfortable dealing with, it was as if these volunteers were attempting to place constraints on their commitment to help these children and perhaps were doing it as a ‘feel good’ exercise rather than one with the child’s best interest as the primary focus.

When I inquired about this to the coordinator who was interviewing me, it was shared with me how many of the people who volunteer are doing it to either get credit for a school program, to put on their ‘resume’ for a future job, or as I previously suspected, to feel like they are doing something ‘good’ in a way that is more like checking off a step on a ‘to-do’ list, rather than something that was truly inspired from their heart. She said many times they were ‘going through the motions’ of being a mentor rather than connecting deeply to the kids in a way that can help inspire them to appreciate all they bring to the world.

It was this conversation that sparked a deeper reflection on just how much we as a society – including myself – have lived life with conditions placed on many of our decisions and actions that result in our being imprisoned by the very forms of protection that we think are providing us a sense of security.

All the times we do things, like help a friend move house, while in the back of our minds we expect a future favor in return, or as kids we say “I’ll clean my room if I can watch my favor-ite cartoon,” it is setting us up for a life pattern that is destined to need external sources for our inner contentment. The key point here being, if our motivation to do something that should be obvious to support oneself, a family, or humanity at large is based on the need or assumption of getting something in return, we will be living in a way that guarantees a state of unsettlement and certainly not true joy for all that life can offer, unconditionally.

One of the things that contributes to this form of conditional living is how we have been told since childhood that once we get that ‘good education’ it will guarantee that ‘good job’, or that if we find a partner who loves and appreciates us, then we have found love or happiness, as if these are external things that can be attained the same way one goes to the local store to buy groceries.

The truth is that we are made of LOVE (it has always resided within us) and until we connect with THAT, via a deeper appreciation for ourselves and all we offer the world, any quest to find it via material acquisitions (whether it be a new house, car, yacht, or job, etc.) will be futile. Putting out conditions on life that one deems necessary to have in order to provide some sort of comfort or security is prevalent in relationships, where we metaphorically say things to ourselves like “I will expose my true sensitivity, love and tenderness to this person once they show this with me first,” which basically holds both of these people back from evolving in their relationship together, and instead ensures a ‘tit for tat’ game being employed where both partners are waiting for the other to make the first move towards the transparency and trust that is necessary for the foundation of any lasting and expanding relationship. This is the prison of conditions.

But why have we bought into this fallacy of being content, loving and joyful only when certain outer criteria are met, and why can’t we simply answer the call for service to others without any need for something in return? My feeling is that it has something to do with a disconnection from our inner selves and a fear of either being rejected or not accepted by others. For how can we be affected by someone rejecting us or not accepting and appreciating how amazing we are if at some level we have not done those things to ourselves first?

We have bought into a belief system that makes it look seemingly easy to have love and joy in one’s life by the simple acquisition of material goods and services. This same belief system puts constraints and conditions on relationships in an effort to make it look easy to have that same love that it touts to be easy to ‘acquire’ without first having connected to it within our inner hearts, where its depth is actually infinite. Therefore, there is a constant need to protect oneself from getting emotionally hurt, and therein lies the birthplace of the conditions that are formulated to gain the security needed. It’s ‘sold’ as an easy path, but in fact it is one that will always result in disappointment and disillusionment, and until we can allow ourselves to be as open and honest about the games we play with conditions in life, we are sure to remain their prisoner.

Alternatively, when we let go of any conditions and expectations out of a need for things to be a certain way in order for us to feel secure, it allows a whole other world of possibilities and connections to develop naturally without constraint and we are no longer ‘boxing ourselves in’ by our conditions we place on life.