Saturday, February 27, 2010

CORRECTED: Mistakes Make Us More

** I'm reposting this, because I posted an incomplete version of it the other day. Oops! How appropriate that I made a MISTAKE when posting an article about... making mistakes!!

I wrote yesterday about how bad judgment can sometimes result in huge learning in our lives. I talked about the attitude that we hold to our mistakes. That, to me, is the key to whether mistakes become a source of misery in our lives… or a source of glory!

I think one of the most important things we can do for our kids and the young people in our lives, is to let them see us make mistakes and address them properly. If we put on an act for our kids, and pretend that we never make mistakes, or make bad decisions – we give them a totally unrealistic idea of what life is all about.

If a kid grows up thinking their parents are perfect, they will never feel that they measure up. Furthermore, they won’t develop the skills needed to clean up after themselves when they make a mess of something!

I’ve worked with many adults, and teenagers who feel that anything less than perfection is failure, or who feel that they have to hide their struggles and mistakes or they will no longer be valued and loved. It’s a tough, painful way to live. And… it’s totally unnecessary.

Good friend of mine years ago was working with her kids at the dinner table from a book I had given them. It was a book that detailed many good ‘virtues’ or ‘qualities’ that people can have and cultivate within themselves. They had a ritual of reading one of the topics each night at the dinner table, and then having a family discussion about that quality… and what it would look like to practice it in their lives/situations. My friend told me that in the course of a conversation one night, on ‘compassion’ they were talking about how you treat mistakes – yours as well as the mistakes of other people. My name came up, and one of the kids said, “NOLA? Nola never makes mistakes!” When my friend told me this, I knew the kid was coming from a place of love and admiration for me. That part tickled me. I was absolutely MORTIFIED, however, to think of this amazing little girl believing for one single nanosecond that I never made mistakes! I never, ever, want anyone to look at me and think I don’t do stupid things… just like everyone else!

I immediately sat down at the computer and typed up a LONG list of mistakes that I’ve made in my life. Granted, I didn’t include everything – this list needed to be age appropriate. I included things like being really mean to a friend of mine as a little girl, and physically restraining her from leaving my house to go say goodbye to her father (who lived in another town and was leaving after a weekend visit). I wanted her to help me clean up the mess we’d made playing. She was devastated that I made her miss saying goodbye to her daddy. I have regretted it to this very day, even though that occurred almost 40 years ago. That girl is dead now. She was in a horrible car accident when she was 18. I never did apologize to her for what I did that day. That was a pretty icky mistake.

Another mistake I shared with them on that list, was getting on a freeway in Arizona, going the exact opposite way that I needed to be driving. I consider myself to be a pretty seasoned traveler, and I was going to attend a week long workshop there. I didn’t figure out I was heading the wrong direction for well over an hour!

The list was long and included many many small things, and several that I considered ‘whoppers.’

I sent it off to my friend, and at their next ‘dinner table discussion’ they pulled out my list and went over my laundry list of ‘errors.’ Some were chuckle worthy. Some were shocking to the kids (especially me being mean to that little girl). I wanted them to see all of this, and know that we are all human, and we all make mistakes. It was important to me that they realized that you can go on after mistakes – sometimes you can set them right and sometimes you can’t. Each one, however, is an opportunity to learn something, become a better person and do things differently the next time.

If you have kids, don’t hide your imperfections and your mistakes from them. In age appropriate ways, let them witness you navigating the waters of ‘mess clean up’ after you’ve made mistakes. It teaches them valuable life skills that they need in order to be healthy, functional adults.

The same goes for those around us. While I don’t believe we have to walk around wearing a sandwich board of all our errors and omissions in life, we should demonstrate a level of humility and humanity towards ourselves, and others, with regards to the human foibles we all share.

Having a right attitude towards our mistakes can free us from self imposed tyranny and give us all a chance to appreciate a good clean up act!