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You Messed Something Up, Now What?

I hate to waste things or throw anything away that might be useful – to someone, somewhere, if I can find them. Though this may be ecologically friendly, it doesn’t make for an uncluttered and beautiful home, which is what I say I want. So, when everyone agreed that it was time to get the set of encyclopedias out of our home, I offered them for free online to anyone who would come get them. I decided that listing would stay open until the next trash day, if there were no takers we’d cut them apart and recycle the pages. The plan was simple enough, but I messed it up right at the last minute.

What do you do and say to yourself when you first realize you may have just messed something up? If it just rolls off your back and you move on, I commend you. If you’re prone to self-condemnation for acts of stupidity and you’d like to end that cycle of self-abuse, there is hope. Here’s what happened next.

Wednesday morning came, and the first thing I did was pop out of bed and cut one of the books apart since the recycling had not yet been picked up. Shortly after I started cutting, I remembered I had not checked my email the previous day, perhaps I should do that before trashing any other books. Sure enough, there was a request for the books. My initial reaction was a sudden wave of frustration, sadness, and self-condemnation. Why had I been so hasty to destroy the book? Why didn’t I remember to check the email before I started cutting into a book? Why did I have to start with a book from the middle of the set? Would this mean I was now stuck destroying this whole set of books? Why did I always mess things up like this? In other words, I was beating up on myself – hard!

At that point, I realized I had a choice – I could keep on beating up on myself and spend the whole day in regret, or I could choose to look for possible blessings from this experience. This awareness of having a choice, of knowing how to get out of the cycle of guilt and regret, is relatively new to me. It is the result of my Fearless Living training: of attending workshops, reading Rhonda Britten’s books, working with a coach, and working with my support team in order to integrate the tools of Fearless Living into my psyche.

One of my favorite Rhonda Britten quotes is, *“No one can be fearless alone.” I love this one because it is the truth that countered a lie that had governed my life for years. That lie was that I could not afford to make mistakes or let anyone know when I had fear or doubt. If anyone found out just how flawed I was they would never want to speak to me again. I had to get it right or I would be an outcast forever. This was never true, but it was the story that played in my head that I believed was true and it guided my feelings and actions for years; decades even. Now I have tools and support that allow me to stop these voices in my head. Now I know how to stay open to options and solutions even when all seems lost.

How did this story end? First, I reminded myself, “I am willing to see this differently; I am willing to see the good that can come from this.” Four options then came to mind: 1) perhaps I was being protected from someone online who was misrepresenting his true intent; 2) perhaps this person just wanted books to fill a shelf, so the missing volume would not matter; 3) perhaps he was an artist who made things out of books by folding and cutting the pages; 4) perhaps he was an artist who just wanted the bindings to make other things. Having come up with these options, I was finally able to relax and stop beating up on myself.

As it turned out, the man wanted the books anyway. The missing volume was not a big deal to him. He now has a set of books he is grateful to have and I have an empty bookshelf ready for books I use and care about.

So, what about you? Do you know how to give yourself room to make mistakes and stay open to options? Do you have people you can call when you need a boost, either friends or advisors? If not, I strongly suggest you try Fearless Living; join a book group, attend a workshop, or get private coaching. You are worth more than you know, it’s time you start to know it.

* Britten, Rhonda (2001) Fearless Living, New York, NY, Penguin Group (USA) Inc.