A few years ago, I made what I like to call the best-really-terrible-mistake I’ve ever made in my life.
It was a poor romantic decision that left me emotionally bruised for quite some time. It forced me to take a good, hard look at myself.
I’m hesitant these days to even call it a mistake at all. It’s interesting to look back after all the work I’ve done to get over it, and I wonder—if someone had told me with absolute certainty about the way those decisions would play out, would I have made different choices?
That truly would have been a mistake.
As difficult as the fallout was (and believe me, it was pretty awful), I’m extremely grateful to have gone through it. It dramatically changed me for the better.
I had a conversation with a friend recently about something similar. She was feeling badly about the way her life looks, about things that have happened in the past, about the fact that she doesn’t think she’s as far along in life as she should be.
She was spending a lot of time comparing herself to other people she knows, using their progress to feel worse about her own.
She was so focused on this train of thought that she was wasn’t able to do any of the things she needed to be doing to achieve her own goals—neither the big, ambitious stuff nor the mundane daily tasks.
She was stuck.
It made me think of how I do the same thing. I spend an awful lot of time lamenting all the stuff I’ve done wrong in my life. It’s so easy to do. There’s a sick sense of comfort in being able to blame the reality of my current situation on past missteps, bad decisions or the harm caused by others.
And it leads to the comparisons: Look how much money that old school friend is making now. Look how happy my ex is with a new love. Look at all the exciting things this coworker does on the weekends. Look at all the ways I’ve been screwed over by life.
When I’m wallowing in all of that, I don’t have to bother doing anything about any of it.
So I get stuck. I flail around and whine about injustice and resign myself to unhappiness about all the things I can’t control.
I do nothing to help me accept certain facts that are truly outside my influence, and nothing to move past the rough patches. When I’m sitting in that kind of discomfort and fear and letting myself lack the motivation to take any actual action, I’m just furthering that pain. I have no option but to keep feeling that way.
Nothing changes if I don’t change.
What can I do instead?
Take some action! Let go of that fear, if only for an hour or so, and do something. Explore possibilities. And stop feeling so darn bad about where I am.
I’ve worked really hard to remember on a consistent basis that I am, at any given moment, exactly where I need to be.
There’s no point in wasting my energy on wondering why things turned out a certain way or wanting them to be better. Because I’ll still be here, right where I am. And everything I’ve had to go through to get right here has been important—the joyous, the hurtful, the memorable and the mundane. All of it has been a step on my personal path.
I don’t always love change. I don’t always love learning lessons. I don’t always love the way things work out.
But if I’m going to make any positive progress in my life and, more importantly, if I’m going to be able to recognize that progress for what it is, I have to remember to honor all those things I don’t love. I have to embrace my mistakes. I have to be grateful for all the times I didn’t get what I thought I wanted.
I have to know that where I am right now is an important and beautiful place to be.
Even when it hurts. Even when I feel like everyone else is happier and more successful than me. Even when I have to watch another person enjoying what I feel should have been mine. Even when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and feel bad for myself.
Especially then, because that’s when I have the greatest opportunity to do something about myself and my life.
I’m filled with gratitude for the unknown. When someone gives me advice, they usually aren’t able to say for sure how something will turn out. I’m glad it’s that way, that there’s always enough uncertainty about the future that I can choose to forego their advice and forge ahead with my own ideas.
I often learn a lot more that way.
Maybe it would be great to be the kind of person who never makes mistakes, but then I’d never have the opportunity to look back and say, “Wow, that was a stunning failure, and it was my right as a flawed human being to have that experience. Perhaps now I can manage to not do something exactly like that ever again.”
And I’d never have the opportunity to go make my next-best-terrible-mistake.
Maybe I do sort of love all those tough lessons after all.
Author: Shannon Fuller
Editor: Callie Rushton