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