My “Mistake” Was Letting You Convince Me I Make “Mistakes”


I’m feeling a bit caddy tonight.  Maybe a tad facetious.  May even a little irritable.  But it’s all good, because I write my best posts in this state of mind!!! (doesn’t give me much hope for my career…)

So you may be wondering about the title.  It’s all good, I don’t think I’m perfect.  I realize I have moments where unuseful words leave my mouth, or I make a poor decision, or slip up on a project.  It happens quite a lot actually, hehe.

I used to hate myself for this.  I used to beat the crap out of myself for my awkward social moments or for letting someone down or for choosing something that caused me to take two steps back instead of two steps forward.  And you know what?  I’m done with that.  Those days are over.  I gained nothing from dragging myself down like that as a result of my own criticism or the criticism of someone else.  And one of the reasons I’ve been able to get past it and leave it all behind is because I’ve let go of this one simple word: mistake.


This word does us a disservice.  I’ve been trying to figure out why and I’ve come to the conclusion that words like “mistake” (to include “screw up”, “sin”, “blunder”, and many more) do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except express a judgement about the situation.  They don’t tell you what happened, they don’t explain the problem, and they definitely don’t provide any solution.  In fact, you might even say that they imply that there is NO solution.  How is that helpful??

I recall many a time in my younger years, finding myself caught in stereotypical “screw-up” at work or with a loved one.  Inevitably, my boss or friends or whatever would say “What were you thinking??  What happened??  How is this possible?”.  (by the way, these questions serve no purpose either – in and of themselves they are very useful questions, but the implication is typically to pass intense judgement on the idiocy of the sinner rather than seek for practical understanding).  My go-to response after years of failed attempts to actually answer those questions honestly (which clearly failed for the above reasons) became “I don’t know, I just, I screwed up.  I don’t know, I just made a mistake, I’m a total idiot.”  And then hoped that throwing myself before their proverbial altar would grant me forgiveness, or at the very least a break from the yelling.

Which of course, would come eventually.  And we’d move on having learned nothing and having accomplished nothing.  Actually, that’s not entirely true: my judger would have accomplished a feeling of satisfaction having appropriately “punished” the do-badder, and I would have walked away with an increased feeling of insufficiency and addiction to perfectionism.

Wait, how is that helpful??

It’s not.  It’s just.  Not.  I’m not writing this to criticize the people who overreact about mistakes – we’re all human, and impatience and ego come just SO naturally to every single one of us.  But I think this kind of situation is where “mistake” and “sin” got their bad rap.  So, focusing on the screw-upper in this scenario, let’s do what my lovely sister calls “reframing the situation”.

First, let’s get rid of those pesky, nasty, useless words.  Go on, throw them out the window!  Use your crime of choice – murder, arson, abandonment… I like to imagine boxing the words into a pile of broken pieces, throwing them in the back of a trash compactor, then bagging them with a block of cement and dropping into the depths of the ocean with a nuclear bomb tied to the side.  But that’s just me.

And now, since words are kind of helpful for understanding, we’ll have to pick some new words to describe what has happened in these difficult situations.  Yay, shopping!!  I’ve found it very helpful to focus on the boutique that sells the “mis”‘s.  Misunderstanding.  Miscommunication.  Misapprehension.  Misstatement.  See how much nicer those are?  It’s a bit ironic because technically “mistake” is a “mis”.  But it’s taken on a life of it’s own in our language and no longer means strictly to “misinterpret” or “mis-take” as in the scene of a movie.  So we exiled it to a remote island.  But not a cool one.  A lonely, rocky, burning one with weird bugs.

So, anyways, let’s try these new words in a sentence.  Here’s the scenario: I just finished a project for my boss and it turns out she wanted it in a different format.  How do I respond?  Pulling my sentence from earlier:

“I don’t know, I just, I misunderstood.”

Oh my goodness!!!  Do you hear that?!?!  That’s the sound of pure, unadulterated self-non-judgementalness and – get this – understanding!  You misunderstood.  It explains what happened – it’s OK to misunderstand.  It happens all the time to normal, strong, well-adjusted adults.

Now what happens next on the part of the other person could go many different directions, and you may have to spend sometime reiterating your new words to yourself to remind yourself that you don’t deserve their judgement, but that’s ok.  Because you’ve now communicated to yourself that what happened has an explanation, and that no judgement towards yourself is needed.  If the person you are working with is in a reasonable state of mind you can now begin to improve your relationship – how did the misunderstanding happen?  What words were used that do not have similar meanings for both of you?  What was assumed in the communication by either party?

Of course, obviously, old habits die hard so getting used to viewing yourself in such an accepting manner will take time – I am still working on this big-time – but you’ve made the first step!

Word of caution – be careful about finding ways to use these words in a way that unnecessarily inflicts the blame all on yourself.  For example, the word “miscommunicate” is best used as “we miscommunicated” rather than “I miscommunicated”.  A miscommunication requires two people – just because you are the subordinate worker or the newbie doesn’t mean you should carry the full load of the problem.  Even in a situation where you “misunderstood”, there is the element of the other person having not explained the concept in terms you understand.  There are always things both people can do to improve the situation to alleviate future issues.

So go on now, make use of your new words in your daily life!  Because since we’re all humans, we all have another “mis” coming up right around the corner.  So we should get good at this really quick, right??

Funny, I don’t feel so cynical anymore.  You Real Girls are good for my psyche.

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