I just totally messed up and made a mistake.
One of those mistakes where the mistake itself is small but the opportunity potentially lost is big. The kind of mistake that leaves you in limbo, wondering how you could make such an oversight yet hoping that you can still be seen for the fabulous woman with a crazy strong work ethic that you know you are.
A small, silly mistake that matters to you enough that it makes you want to eat chocolate and scream, then flop onto the couch and watch bad reality TV in order to forget your screw up.
So I can’t decide if it feels extra ironic or soothing to me that the message I wanted to convey in this essay about mistakes is this:
I once made a mistake that cost my employer thousands of dollars. The actual error was small: an inversion of numbers, a falter in my proofreading skills.
I’ve dated the wrong guys, for too long. Given second and third and fourth chances where they shouldn’t have been given.
I chose the college I went to based on a future profession that it turns out, I didn’t want.
I’ve yelled at my daughter for the smallest of reasons.
I created a new system for proofing that complicated project, and there was never a typo in it again.
I stopped dating altogether—and that’s when I met the one I had been hoping for, my now-husband.
I channeled my discontent with my school selection into a study-abroad experience that changed my life.
I learned that in order to be the mom I want to be, I need to take care of myself (and I learned how to actually take care of myself).
And as far as my latest mistake? Well, it’s too soon to tell what the lesson will be in that one. But thankfully, through my other mistakes, I’ve learned how to apologize and course correct. I’ve learned how to mess up and move on.
I don’t think the advice “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes” is helpful. It’s okay to be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes aren’t what we’re going for. A healthy fear of them can serve us.
I think what’s actually helpful advice isn’t really advice at all, it’s just this: Know that you will make mistakes. Even when you try your hardest not to. In mistakes, you can find the lessons you might not have learned otherwise. That’s what keeps regret from taking over.
And to avoid any confusion: I don’t look forward to my mistakes. I’m not sitting around thinking, “Oooo, I can’t wait until I make another big mistake so I can learn a valuable life lesson!”
Ugh. No. Because this feeling I have right now, upon just discovering my mistake — it does not feel good.
But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that every mistake is a teacher. It gives us the opportunity to change what’s not working, create better systems, delegate tasks…to re-envision the kind of business owner or mom or partner or friend we want to be.
Over the past week or so, I was struggling to finish this essay because I thought the message sounded too trite. But today I found myself face-to-face with my latest mistake and I realized it’s not trite. It’s true. In every mistake is the chance to own your error and learn the lesson.
But there was one part I was missing before. And that’s the simple acknowledgment that when we’re living it, the mistakes don’t feel good. They just don’t. And it could be days or weeks or months or even years before we understand the benefit of our screw up.
When I found out I made that big proofreading mistake, I got a pit in my stomach that lasted all day.
The night I got stood up AGAIN by that guy who didn’t deserve the chance, I sobbed, then sat in the dark and polished off a bottle of wine alone.
When I realized I didn’t want to be a teacher after all, I felt trapped, stuck, totally lost.
When I yelled at my daughter, I felt like crap.
When you’re in the moment, it does help to know that you’ll ultimately be able to find the silver lining. But it also helps to just feel how you feel. To take a few minutes to flop onto the couch or cry or drink wine (although…maybe not the whole bottle) and just feel the frustration and disappointment.
And then, like I’m telling myself right now, you gotta get back up. You gotta get back up so you can get to the part where you learn the lesson.
MotherHustle panelist Stacy Firth is a writer and content strategist who helps moms who are small business owners and solopreneurs create online content that keeps it real. She also leads workshops that help mamas lead a lit-up life, and is mama to two. You can find her on her website or on Instagram at @stacyrfirth.
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