6 Things You Learn When You Stop Beating Yourself Up About Your Mistakes

Recently while making dinner together, a friend asked me a pretty mortifying question out of nowhere. I was dicing up green onions when he went glib and hollered from the couch, "So, what is the biggest regret of your life?" He certainly caught me off guard. I nearly lost a few important layers of finger skin. Surely I could rattle off a list of fairly vapid, superficial regrets I've made in my short-ish life. I could even rattle off a list of fairly sizable, life-impacting slips. None came immediately to mind, though.

Again, I've most certainly, royally flubbed through life. More than once! If you live long enough, you're doomed to make some bad decisions. Maybe it's based on impulse. Or perhaps emotions drove you to do or not do something you wouldn't repeat with a cool head. That's just life, man.

Regardless of my own foible humanness, I didn't have a definitive answer to my friend's brooding question. That's because — really, only recently — I learned to let go of my mistakes. That isn't to say I wiped my memory of the numerous misguidances I, myself, steered. I just learned to stop being a zealot of my own pain, marinating in a morose pool of it. Eventually, at some point, life begs you to emerge all pruny-fingered from the hot tub of heartbreak and regret you poured yourself. There's some good that comes from this, obviously. Once you learn to forgive yourself for mistakes, you realize all of the following:

Everyone messes up

Listen. You're not the first person to get way too stoned before the college newspaper staff meeting and fumble over your section's budget for the week. It happens. You'd be hard-pressed to find an adult who can confidently report a squeaky clean life track record. And if you do find one, congrats: you also found a totally shameless liar. Something simultaneously terrifying and reassuring is the fact that not one person on this planet has everything completely figured out. It's a process that doesn't finish until we drop dead. This is true for everyone meaning we all make mistakes.

Your past can mostly be left in your past

You realize you can't let your mistakes define you. You move on but make sure you don't do it again. If you don't learn to start slowly forgiving yourself, you give that mistake all the weight of a 10,000 pound anchor. Be your own buoy and cut that dead weight off.

You have to cut yourself some slack

We should always actively work towards self-improvement. That said, we need a little wiggle room for said growth. Try to limit the extra-thick cuts, but be sure to make an effort to shave off little ribbons of slack for yourself (and others). We're doing our best.

There's often a lesson buried in painful experiences

It sucks we can't just study a guidebook to life at an early age to effectively skip all the distress on the rapidly-approaching horizon. Consider the first time you ate it on your bicycle. Did you not learn a hard-earned lesson in the importance of physical balance? Consider the first time you talked mad crap about a good friend and when they found out, you found yourself one friend short. Did you not learn that's a pretty mean way to treat people you care about? Unfortunately we humans often need a painful experience to really drive a lesson home. But those are typically the most effective teachers.

You get to define yourself

Say maybe you followed a sociopathic college boyfriend to a big city after graduation. Say maybe then he repeat cheated on you, among other bad moves. That sucks, bb. Truly. But then it's your decision on what's next. Does that means you immediately retreat home? Does that mean you stay in the hot tub of emotional feels until you feel dizzy? Nope and nope. That kind of hurt doesn't get to define you unless you say so (and you never should).

You can make a re-do

Life seems like it goes by quickly, and it does. But there's still a lot left of it. There's countless more opportunities to follow your heart, brain, goals, etc. Each day is a re-do, it's just your job to call it.

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