No, this isn’t going to be a post about how to turn mistakes into success, or how mistakes are really just a precursor to success. This isn’t about learning from mistakes, and it’s not about how mistakes aren’t really as bad as you think they might be. This is about the gift of giving yourself the freedom to make outrageous mistakes and accept yourself anyway.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a mistake is “An error or fault resulting from defective judgment, deficient knowledge, or carelessness.” The language of this definition reflects a judgmental attitude towards mistakes – that mistakes are the result of something defective or careless or deficient in the person who made those mistakes. This vicious attitude towards mistakes seems to be tied with the word’s very definition.
But maybe we should hate mistakes. How dare we mess up?? How dare we not do exactly what we need to do to create the life we want for ourselves? How incompetent, how careless!
Yet… the thing is, at least from what I’ve seen, there is a deep longing in the heart to escape this judgment and to be able to make mistakes freely. Sure, we can tolerate being judged, yelled at, kicked around – even by our own selves. But it’s not a condition that we thrive under. Rather than walking a tightrope in life, with spikes on either side, what we seem to really long for is to be able to fall and laugh. To make a mess and still smile. To do something careless and not be laughed at or judged. And while you can’t always control the amount of judgment that comes from others, you can confront your own judgment.
There is something beautiful about making a mess, whatever kind of mess it is, and feeling like your mess-making will not shake the bonds with those around you, but instead can be grounds for an enjoyable time. Maybe, instead of reacting in anger, the other person might respond by joining in, and you can both make even more of a mess together, laughing and playing. Freedom seems to be more about giving yourself total acceptance than achieving the freedom to do whatever you want. Because if you ever fail to do what you want, you might fall into anger with yourself, getting impatient and frustrated with your own inability to produce the results you desire.
So many other ways of valuing mistakes seem to be based off of ways of seeing mistakes as a pathway to success. But instead of seeing things positively only for what they can get you, what about being comfortable and totally at peace with a lack of success? Can you laugh and smile at your own failure, and what others might call stupidity? This ability, while I certainly have not completely found it for myself yet, is something that I now see is one of the keys to inner freedom, and is something that would make, well, me at least, happy on a deeper level than surface-level “fun” can. “Fun” is usually achieved, after all – some things are fun and others are not fun. Acceptance isn’t achieved, at least not in a momentary way – it is a way of being, one that results from a way of seeing that doesn’t label behavior as bad or wrong. Acceptance isn’t just “tolerance”, either, but instead is deep and appreciative. Really, it’s grounded in friendship.
I feel like the first step to finding acceptance, acceptance so strong that it welcomes things normally called “mistakes”, is in seeing the longing for it inside one’s self. And one place where you can see the longing is in how painful it is for you when others insult and demean you, and you believe it. The pain of abuse, as far as I can tell, is the sign of a longing for true acceptance.
And I feel like a lot of good can come of self-acceptance. A seed that’s stepped on in impatience cannot grow, after all. Or in the case of the self, it might grow to be twisted up, or burst wildly out in one direction or another, as if fleeing an unseen enemy.
Exercise: Feel self-acceptance now.
- Think of a time that you were hurt or abused – verbally, physically, emotionally, or however. Think about how it made you feel. Take those feelings with you to the next step.
- Now, flip the scenario to what you would have liked instead. How would you have liked to be treated? Specifically, what kind of scenario would it have taken for you to have smiled deep down inside, and been deeply happy instead of hurt? Hold that longed-for scenario in your mind and let the feelings rise to the surface.
If you really thought of a scenario that would make you deeply happy instead of hurt, then, as far as I can tell, that is what it feels like to be accepted and loved, instead of persecuted and abused. Reminding yourself of your ideal scenario can help fuel you, and help connect you to the feeling of self-acceptance – it’s kind of like wrapping yourself in a warm, comforting blanket.