Owning Your Mistakes & The Wisdom Of The Oops
First, a tremendous thank you to everyone who completed/entered A Wish Come Clear’s first survey + giveaway! I’m thrilled to announce the winner of our contest: Veronique, a woman who has a son with disabilities. Here’s her response to question 10 (What would your life look like if you felt supported in every area?): “My life would be harmonious and become I would feel balanced and less tense; those around me would benefit as well.” The simplicity and compassion in her response spoke out to me, and reminded me that the work we do for ourselves benefits those we love as well.
Again, many thanks to everyone who contributed + entered!
I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid screw-ups whenever possible. I prefer the on-time, on-target, exceeds-expectations way of living life. I like it when everyone gets along and agrees. I appreciate a well-timed, well-executed schedule. Miscommunications, mistakes and messiness? No, thank you.
Perfectionistic? Unrealistic? Oh, absolutely. But this is how I roll.
That said, last week was a real stretch for me.
On Monday alone, I faced:
- a full days’ work, with all the minor crises that entails
- an unexpected sub-in on an evening routine at L’Arche (after aforementioned full days’ work)
- an unfortunate mistake (mine) involving the move-in date for our new apartment, which necessitated negotiating with our (very kind) current landlord so we wouldn’t be homeless
- challenging words from a friend, who was struggling with something I’d written online
If I had known that by Friday I’d be racing to the ER to be with my husband, who was unexpectedly diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg…I would not have worried about any of it. (Thankfully, he’s home and doing well.) But I didn’t know about the life-and-death scenario awaiting us. All I knew was: it’s hard feeling like you’ve screwed up. And it’s even harder when it’s Monday and you have PMS.
Not surprisingly, I was undone by 5pm. I needed to leave for evening routine, but first I curled into a fetal position and let the tears fall. My husband held me. I said, “I hate feeling like I screwed up! I hate being called on at the last minute! I like to PLAN for these things! I wish…I need…”
I had no idea what I needed.
And suddenly I was picturing my brother, Willie. I was seeing him erase his mistakes so thoroughly that he wore out his homework pages. I was seeing him unravel his socks because he can’t stand the sight and feel of a tiny hole. Most of all, I was seeing the laminated sign my parents have posted for him on their refrigerator, the sign that says, “Oops! No big deal.”
The sign is there to help him when he starts to freak out about making a mistake. I used to think this was funny, that my darling neurotic of a brother needed an actual sign.
This struck me as hilarious, given my current predicament. I laughed through my tears, and the laughter was an active letting go. I thought, “God! I’m just like him. We’re cut from the same cloth. Two of a kind.”
“I need a sign!” I said to my husband. “Like the one Willie has!”
“The one that says, ‘Oops, No big deal?’” he asked.
“Exactly,” I said. “I need it, like, yesterday.”
“If you need one, I’ll make one,” my husband replied.
Make yourself a sign. It might say, “Oops, No big deal!” or “Live and learn,” or “I did the best I could with what I had.” There is wisdom in being kind to yourself. The next time you make a mistake, look at the sign. Admit your mistake, let out the hurt and then do your best to move on and move forward.
As Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies, “A woman I know says for her morning prayer, ‘Whatever’ and for her evening, ‘Oh well.’” When I first read this, I thought it was a bit, shall we say, flippant. Now I see that it’s about surrender, the sweetness of admitting that you can’t control much of anything except yourself. It’s about surrender with whatever words come naturally to you.
When you let go and forgive yourself, your hands are open. And only open hands can receive.
Once I hit rock bottom and let go of my own failure that day, I received a beautiful gift: the feeling of being connected to my brother, the feeling of being human in the very same way as him.
It reminds me of something that my friend Cassandra* once said. When she was asked, “What hurts you?” she replied, “Well. When people I love die. And. Not being able to do things right.”
Not being able to do things right does hurt. For Cassandra to admit that was an act of courage. But she ordered her sentence well, because the pain of not doing things right is an afterthought compared to losing someone you love.
If I had known that my husband had a blood clot as he was comforting me, none of the mistakes and fears I struggled with would have mattered one bit.
Nothing would have mattered except that I was being held.
If you were to make a sign for yourself to help you in owning your mistakes, what would it say? Tell me in the comments!
*Names have been changed.
About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.