Good evening, friends and neighbors!
In case you haven’t guessed, I love telling a good story. It’s the way we tend to look at our lives and experiences.
The good guys win (most of the time.) We love stories of redemption, of overcoming adversity, and underdogs. From our earliest mythmakers, we have seen the “plot lines” in our lives.
Of course, those include plots where we aren’t exactly as perfect and noble as we dream of being.
There’s reasons for those moments too. Yes, they are frustrating. If you deal with neuroticism, anxiety, or depression (like me,) this goes double because they can momentarily hijack your mood and possibly lead to a period of rumination.
What IS there to be gained from remembering that stupid mistake you made in the 5th grade- just before you go to sleep, of all times?
1. Reminders of Growth
You are not set in stone. No matter who you are or what you did before, tomorrow is always an opportunity to start fresh. No, you may never really get rid of your regrets (if you have any-) but you are not required to self-flagellate every day. When you find yourself remembering foolish things you said or did, try telling yourself “Yes, this is who I was- but I am not that anymore. I have grown.”
2. A Lesson is Learned
When my dad was in school and going for an internship, he had to get a letter of recommendation from one of his instructors. The letter included the line, “I have seen him make many mistakes- but I’ve never seen him make the same mistake twice.”
We are all born in ignorance. If there’s one thing everyone knows, it’s that no one knows EVERYTHING. Mistakes are to be expected throughout our lives. So long as we are always trying to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them, there’s no reason to berate themselves. When you remind yourself of a mistake you made, try reminding yourself “That happened, but I have corrected it, and I know what to do in the future.
3. Forgiveness for Imperfection
We are the heroes of our own stories. For some of us though- those dealing with anxiety and Impostor Syndrome especially- we feel more like the comic relief than the protagonist. Setting impossibly high standards for yourself sets you up for failure- failures your mind will harp on repeatedly, and never let you forget.
Try to make these moments into reminders that you don’t have to be perfect– and maybe even give yourself permission to laugh. “Yeah, that happened. It was pretty silly, now that I think back on it. Ah well.”
4. Recognition of the Past
Back when I was in college, a rabbi came to lecture as a motivational speaker and stress management expert. In his short talk, just before leading the room in a group meditation, he said something especially profound that I have kept in mind ever since:
“You are the end product of your life- the logical result of every decision you have ever made. Every choice- good or bad- has built you into exactly who you are now.
If you like who and what you are now, there is no need to have regrets. If you are proud of the product, be proud of the process.
If not, then you can start making different decisions, right now.”
Personally, when I am not stuck in a ruminating rut (“So-and-so did me wrong,” “I should have said ___ ” etc) I tend to recall more serious mistakes I had made- usually ones that cost friendships or relationships, and I tend to wonder about ways I could make things right.
Of course, that’s not always an option. Some things that were done can’t be undone. These are the worst, when all you can truly tell yourself is “Yes, this happened. I can’t fix it, but I can still learn.”
Warts and All…
Taking ownership of yourself and responsibility for your life mean accepting it– the good and bad, the glories and the failures.
Let’s be real here- if you read a story where the plot was just an unbroken chain of wins and successes without the hero even momentarily questioning themselves, that’d be a really friggin boring book.
The sooner you learn to own your life, the sooner you can start making it less cringey and more interesting.