I am bold (and vain) enough to think that I'm a pretty smart cookie. So, why is it that I sometimes continue to make the same mistakes?
This week I made a fatal error in judgment and did something that I thought I'd learned a lesson from in many different ways, from many different mistakes in the past. The outcome was almost exactly the same as it had been in similar situations in the past (making a bad situation worse) and yet I was STILL initially surprised. I remained in denial for several hours, where I blamed everything from the unknowable to the fact that I had let my heart get ahead of my brain. (As if I wasn't in control of that very process!)
After several hours had passed and I had time to reflect, I managed to piece together all of those similar situations that I should have cross-applied and it felt like I'd been hit over the head with a very heavy mallet. It was, at once, an "Aha!" as well as a "Duh!" moment. I felt even more chargrinned because I realized that it was a lesson I have had plenty of opportunity to learn.
I think I've learned many lessons in the last six years, particularly. I can't think of any other time in my life (other than when I first moved to the U.S. back in '96) when I have so drastically changed the way I think and react to certain situations in life. I'm not exactly sure exactly why this time of my life has been so influential, although I have some theories.
Part of it, I think, is that I have met some pretty amazing people who have made a huge impact on the way I look at the world and view my own actions; courageous, compassionate, thoughtful, people who demonstrate strength of character through personal growth and self-reflection. My husband is one of those people, by the way. It's so wonderful to be married to someone who shows you how to be a better person. But that's an aside...
Of course, almost all of these lessons I have learned came from making mistakes.
I'm not afraid of making mistakes, and never really have been, but I was, for a long time, afraid of owning them. Notice I didn't say 'owning-up' to them, although that was part of it too. Owning up to a mistake is the easy part (although, for a lot of people, that's a big step all on it's own.) You admit you did something, you apologize (if needed), and then you go on your merry little way in life.
However, owning mistakes (to me) means trying to understand why I made the mistake, taking ownership of those reasons and the outcomes, and making decisions about what (if anything) I would do differently if the same or similar situation happened again.
So now it's even more of a dumbass moment when I realize the lesson I learned got lost somewhere along the way; that I failed to retrieve it at the critical moment of decision and fell right back into an old pattern.
What's also different for me is the speed at which I will readily admit I messed up.
It's not like I didn't have any moments of self-reflection before or never apologized to people but it usually took a lot more time, space, and emotional detachment from the event before I could truly see my own actions clearly. I was blocked, I realize now, by the fact that I would want to defend myself, to sorta-kinda admit that I did something wrong but, at the same time, throw in ten reasons as to why I did what I did - usually excuses that blamed something or someone external.
Now I attempt to fall on my sword right away; get it out of the way as soon as possible by apologizing and accepting (and I mean that as more than a surface-level admission) that I made a mistake or did the wrong thing. Until recently, I didn't realize how much time and emotional energy that took up: trying to hide something, consciously, that was subconsciously, banging on a door to be let out. All your emotional energy is being spent on just trying to keep that door closed at all costs, rather than really dealing with what comes out when you open it. Let's face it, you usually end up dealing with it anyway, at some point down the road and then, sometimes, it's too late to repair whatever you damaged.
So, I messed up. I guess we all do it. They say may all your mistakes be new ones but sometimes you just don't live up to that for whatever reason. I suppose the biggest lesson of all that I can say that I have learned is to accept the lessons themselves. Ten years ago I would still be in the defensive, blaming, denial phase of my dumbass move. Now, I'm mortified I messed up, I've apologized to all who I affected, and I can already clearly see my own actions and the real reasons behind them. Let's hope I can pull this one out of the memory bank and not make a similar mistake again.