“To err is human; to blame it on the other guy is even more human.”
I don’t enjoy admitting I’ve been wrong.
I’m slowly getting better at it, though, for two reasons. One, I do Shiva Nata, where the magic happens exactly when you’re making those mistakes. Not messing it up? Time to move on to more difficult things. This has helped me create a curiosity towards mistakes (“Oh wow, I totally messed up there. Wonder how that happened?”), my own and those of others. Not totally there yet, not by a long shot. And the bigger the issue, the less I manage to be all zen about it.
The other thing that’s slowly teaching me to face the imperfections in everything I do is the university – where there is a project, there is constructive peer criticism. I get it, that’s the way the academic world works. Peer reviews are everything. Sort of like the blogosphere (and that’s not the only resemblance – more on those insightings in a future post). I always do appreciate people who’ve taken the time to find more to say about my project besides “I liked / didn’t like it” or “I really don’t have much to comment”.
I don’t have to like it, though. Whenever I’m in a peer evaluating situation I feel the need to respond to every bit of feedback with an explanation. Similarly, if I’ve offended someone or made a mistake in the real world, the first instinct is to throw in a bunch of explanations, excuses, or other ways of shifting responsibility.
It’s not fun to admit something was your responsibility and you screwed it up, big or small. I get this burning, sickening sensation in my gut when I realise there is something I should’ve taken care of but didn’t. Fear of failure, big time. And it brought all its nasty friends with it. And they’re all having a boiling-cauldron-moshpit party in my stomach. Eugh.
In the academic world it’s a bit easier, since most of the time we’re practicing a certain task or genre, and mostly the work handed in is still rough and in progress. It’s easier to take criticism when it’s specific and intended to help you make the work better – and when there’s still time to make corrections or revisions.
But oh the pain, the horror, if you (and by you, I mean I) get critical feedback on something and The Boat Has Sailed. Your mistake has pissed off a friend or a relative, cost your company hundreds or thousands of dollars, destroyed someone’s precious belongings or wrecked your own reputation or that of someone you respect. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.
The emotional side to totally messing something up
So what did I do when I smashed my dad’s car in a cement wall when I was eighteen? Or my then-boyfriend’s car in a traffic sign when I was twenty? (Pattern emerging? Nah…) Besides, you know, cry for an hour?
As it happens, that’s probably the first thing that I’ve learned about making mistakes, big or small. I’m allowed to feel upset. There’s the guilt, the embarrassment of behaving worse than could be expected, the shame of revealing you’re not perfect, the anger at yourself and possibly a lot of other people for being such a jackass…
Whatever the cocktail of emotion, I know I shoulda coulda woulda done something, anything. The first shock is not the time to start making it right. It’s a swamp you have to tread through before getting to the fixing part, and there’s no way to speed it up or make it go away.
Ok, no real way that I’ve found. You can argue that any intoxicating substance or activity will do the trick. What I think, though, is that numbing or silencing the aargh and the ow and the shame and the I really don’t even want to think about it will just postpone the next stage.
The emotional part of feeling horrible is linked to taking responsibility for your actions, too.
The moment I admit my behavior’s been less than acceptable, let alone downright horrible, I can get on with feeling awful. The longer I hold back taking responsibility, the more I postpone the actual “Aaaaargh!!” stage. Once that’s off the table, I can start behaving rationally. And you really don’t want to start fixing anything of any significance until you can really think straight. Not so much a service as another punch in the gut of the person you’ve already hurt.
One more thing – feeling awful doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wallow in the guilt just for the sake of wallowing. There is a difference between admitting you’ve made a mistake and beating yourself over the head with it long after you could’ve moved on. Let yourself feel bad, but don’t make yourself feel bad. Subtle distinction.
This tendency, I think, is more common with perfectionists. Once you’re getting past the stage where the only thing you can think of is “how could I be so stupid!!” and actually starting to assess the damages, a healthy dose of realism will do you good.
That’s what Monday’s post will start off with. I’ll also tell you the full story of Smashings The Cars – and whether or not I actually learned anything from it.
Until then – have a lovely weekend, and keep catching your own insights!
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