A mistake can feel like the end of the world.
Your heart pounds, blood swishes deafeningly in your ears, your hand shakes . . . it’s a hideous feeling.
And the funny thing is, the scale of the mistake doesn’t always matter. I’ve had that reaction when I misplaced a paper at work, and when I nearly totaled two cars crossing through traffic when I was 8 months pregnant.
That’s not to say there aren’t big mistakes and little ones. Off the cuff, I want to define “big mistakes” as ones with far reaching consequences, but even that isn’t scientific.
To my mind, for example, getting caught selling heroin outside a high school — huge mistake. Period. But of course depending on the court, the judge, the local laws, your legal history and your skin color, the consequences of your action can vary widely. Does that mean that sometimes it was a huge mistake, but sometimes a medium-sized one? No, of course not.
Let’s bring it closer to home. Let’s say you’ve had a long day and while preparing for dinner, you snap at your husband. He realizes you’re overwrought and pitches in to get it done. So snapping at him was a tiny mistake, or maybe not a mistake at all. Same scenario, but your husband freaks out — maybe gets violent. So now snapping was a huge mistake?
In both cases, you did the same thing. You snapped at another human. It ranks an apology, an effort to express yourself more politely. That’s it. Maybe in the second case you have a second mistake — forgetting that you are dealing with an unreasonable jerk.
All mistakes have some consequence of some kind, although the consequences may vary, be out of scale and be unpredictable. But all mistakes can and should be managed.
Define it. Repair what you can. Strategize to avoid repeating it.
Let’s back up and show this in action.
You got caught selling heroin outside a high school. Define the mistake (in layers, in this case):
“I allowed myself to get so desperate that I took a stupid chance.”
“I allowed myself to look past the well-being of another human being.”
“I’m an addict.”
You can probably think of about 100 more in this scenario, but let’s go on to the next step: Repair.
You’ll likely have few choices about this. You’ll get sentenced and serve your time, or go around with brand new ankle jewelry. If you influenced young kids, you might have the opportunity to tell them that heroin was actually a bad idea. Maybe you write an apology note to the parents of the kids, admitting you damaged their families.
And, finally, Strategize.
This might involve rehab, further education, avoiding old acquaintances, and finding a counselor or mentor to guide you to better paths.
In the second scenario, you snapped at your husband while preparing dinner. Obviously, this is way on the other end of the mistake spectrum, but we can still apply the three steps:
Define: I snapped, which, while not the end of the world, feels pretty rough to the person on the receiving end. This isn’t how I want to set a tone in my home.
Repair: “Sorry, honey. I’m so tired but that’s no excuse for talking to you like that.”
Strategize: “I guess I should have gotten more sleep last night instead of watching that movie. Let’s make Saturday movie night so I can sleep longer, okay?”
But what if the consequence was completely out of scale, like our last example?
Let’s try the formula:
Define: I snapped at my husband. So I deserved the bruising that followed.
Repair: Ice on the bruises. I was probably already forced to apologize.
Strategize: Never snap again?
That’s absurd, of course, but you might be tempted. You’ve got to know the difference between what you control and what you don’t. Maybe you can keep from snapping at him again, but can you control his explosive reactions? You can not. And if you don’t snap, he’ll find some other pretext to explode. That’s on him; not you. That’s not your mistake. So maybe it’s time to define again: what was your mistake?
Define: Being with a violent person to begin with?
Repair: Don’t be with the violent person. (Easier said than done, but that is the only true repair, since you can’t control him. So move on down to strategize.)
Strategize: Sock away money. Find others to help. Call police . . .
I know this last example seems extreme and unnecessary, but I use it to make a clear point: To strategize a true solution, you really have to define the mistake correctly.
If your mother is outraged because you bought a car without discussing it with her first, was your mistake that you didn’t call her first? No, your mistake was in not setting clear boundaries.
If your kid stole money from your purse and blamed you for being miserly with the allowance, was your mistake in the amount of the allowance? No, your mistake was not setting limits with the kid. Get a job, junior. Go mow lawns.
If your boss threatens to fire you because you didn’t complete a task he forgot to tell you about, was your mistake not reading his mind? Of course not. But now that you know how he can be, you can jump right to strategize — Ask him what your priority is for the day. Document his requests. Encourage him to email lists to you . . .
If you have trouble defining exactly what your mistake is, try talking it through with a trusted friend or counselor. The first step to empowering yourself is recognizing the truths that make us uncomfortable. http://ow.ly/i/lvBJT