Taking responsibility for your mistakes
Not long ago, I agreed to do something, but didn’t follow through. A few days later my good friend communicated his disappointment with me.
I was embarrassed and I felt bad. Of course, I had several good reasons why I hadn’t followed through (excuses), but I have come to realize something important. There is no excuse for not following through on our agreements. If I make a mistake, or let someone down, I have to take full responsibility for my actions---no ifs, ands, or buts. But then what? Where do I go from there?
In the course of our lives, we make mistakes, bad choices, missteps, errors in judgment, let others down, and basically goof up in just about every way possible! This is a natural consequence of human life. Ask most adults, if they are honest with themselves, they can recite a litany of poor choices and misdeeds they have made in the past.
Frequently, adults feel a sense of shame and humiliation about these actions and decisions. They berate themselves, feel bad, blame themselves, and feel less worthy. When adults feel guilty and ashamed of their behavior, their feelings of shame can result in self-destructive behavior.
What makes matters worse is that we often make the same mistake numerous times! Then we really beat ourselves up! We ask ourselves--Why did I choose that “bad boy” again? Why am I continually late to meetings or dates? Why do I keep getting speeding tickets? Why do I continue spending more money than I should? The offenses are different for each one of us, but at times, the list seems endless. Free will is expensive!
I believe that an important mission in life is to learn from our experiences and to strive to become the person we want to be. We are all “works” in progress, filled with imperfections and flaws, but also blessed with the capacity to learn, grow and mature. In order to do this, we must fully embrace and take responsibility for everything we do. This helps us nurture self-awareness. And then we must apply ourselves to the process of implementing that knowledge into our lives.
First, to accomplish this, we have to experience our embarrassment and possible shame. Pushing away these uncomfortable feelings can lead to avoiding responsibility as a way of avoiding humiliation. But then, after we acknowledge our feelings, we have to adopt a more “neutral” attitude towards our misstep. This enables us to look more closely and carefully at ourselves---all part of the recipe for self-awareness.
So, if you make a mistake--admit it to yourself and to others. Avoid the inclination to become defensive. (That is hard!). Apology is important, but does not absolve you of responsibility. Let the other person know that you take responsibility for your actions and that you are sorry for the injury or disappointment you may have caused. Don’t send a text message or an email! Talk to the person, send them a card or letter, or call them.
Secondly, after a heartfelt apology, find a way of making “amends.” This is a brilliant concept developed in the Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) program. While this doesn’t make up for our mistake, it is an act (rather than a statement) that demonstrates our genuine desire to “make up” for our error or behavior in a constructive manner. Perform an act of loving kindness to the wronged party. This goes a long way.
In my case, I did send a card to my friend, acknowledging his disappointment and my misstep. Several days later, I was able to make amends by completing the task that I agreed to do. I felt better for having made amends--and it helped me to become more aware of the need to do better in the future.
What do you think?