I learned the most from fucking up.
There was a time in my life when I thought:
~ I would never cheat on an intimate partner, I am loyal to the bone.
~ I would never lie to people in my life, I am honest and sincere.
~ I would never steal – a thing, an idea, anything.
~ I would never allow someone to manipulate me, I am strong and independent.
~ I would never compromise my integrity.
And yet, before the age of 30, I ended up doing all those things. I cheated on a partner, I lied to people dear to me, I wrote about stolen ideas, I was manipulated by someone I respected, and by the end of it, I felt I lost my integrity.
This exacerbated my pre-existing tendency for privacy, and it made me feel insecure about my accomplishments and my worth.
And for a long time, I was stuck in self-loathing and paralyzed by the fear of being found out as the fraud I felt I was.
Years later, I finally got sick of the flashbacks that brought upon waves of shame, and decided to look back and make sense of what happened. What did I actually do? Why? And what did that say about me as a person? It took a lot of journaling and coaching sessions, but I found my way out.
By the end of it, I saw the gifts and the meaning we can find in our major fuck-ups.
#1: Take responsibility
I was only able to get out of the maze (of my own making) by taking responsibility for my actions. Until then, when I was not drowning in shame and self-loathing, I was too busy trying to find someone else to blame or desperately trying to find excuses for my behaviors.
To be clear, taking responsibility does not mean self-flagellation. Taking responsibility is simply the acknowledging of mistakes.
#2: Forgive yourself
After I acknowledged my mistakes, I had to forgive myself. I understood that forgiveness had to start from within. I realized that it didn’t matter if other people forgave me too; what I longed for more than anything was self-forgiveness. That’s when I was finally able to inhale.
#3: Mistakes do not define you
Once I forgave myself, I was able to dissociate my actions from how I viewed myself as a person. What I did was bad, but I was not a bad person. I was not condemned forever. I just fucked up, badly. As long as I acknowledged my mistakes and took responsibility for my actions, those actions did not define me. I could still live by my values moving forward.
#4: Mistakes show you what’s important
After making sense of the events in my life that I felt I compromised my values, I noticed how much easier it was to make decisions. When I was in situations where I was faced with choices that had ethical underpinnings, I knew just what to do. That’s because I now knew what I was not willing to sacrifice ever again – my integrity, loyalty, and honesty.
I now had an inner barometer to help me make decisions.
#5: Compassion for others’ mistakes
Self-forgiveness helped me see how others can and should be forgiven too, even for actions we usually deem ‘unforgivable’. I found it so much easier to imagine how someone finds themselves on the wrong path, because I know that for many of us it’s gradual: one small error in judgement after another, and…we find ourselves on a road we never thought we’d be on.
So now, I try to remind myself that I don’t know the full story, and that the people toward whom we’re throwing stones messed up – but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss them as people.
If we live long enough, most of us are likely to get to a point where we’ve done things we disagree with and struggle to forgive – actions that run contrary to our values and can make us doubt our self-worth.
It’s ok. It’s not just you, it’s most of us… You don’t have to stay trapped on a road you didn’t mean to choose.
To find your way back:
~ Take responsibility.
~ Forgive yourself.
~ Know that your mistakes do not define you.
~ Treasure your newfound ethical barometer.
~ See those around you with compassion.
What’s the fuck-up you’re still struggling to forgive yourself for?
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