It’s 5:02 PM on Saturday night, and I am losing my mind.
Ten minutes ago, a friend told me that I’d made a mistake.
And that’s all it takes to flip my switch.
The “Wrong” Convo in My Mind
As I drive home, my stomach tightens and my mind floods, first with self-doubt:
I double-checked. I triple-checked! After all my hard work, how could I still a mistake like this?
Then, I start feeling defensive.
How is this even possible? I sent Emails to the team weeks ago. They ignored them, and now I’m the one who looks bad.
The Choleric/Driver in me now demands documentation.
When I get home, I’m going to find those Emails. In fact, I’m not going to wait that long. I’m going to stop at Starbucks and hook into their WiFi!
Next, I start making meaning out of the whole debacle.
But if this is true–if I really did make this mistake–what does it mean about me? If I messed this up, what else have I ruined? What kind of person does such a thing?
I have an overwhelming urge to take immediate action.
This must never happen again. I’ll quit the project. It’s the only way.
To assuage the pang of sadness, I revise history.
I didn’t really like it that much in the first place. And they’ll be better off without me.
Why I Can’t Be Wrong
I sleep fitfully, waking up Sunday morning with a headache and nausea. Checking my Email last night made things ten times worse. I have, in fact,
- made a mistake.
- screwed up.
There’s no way out. Nobody to blame but myself. Anxiety gnaws at me all day, chewing up my appetite and energy.
This morning, I bring my mistake mess to my Prayer Chair.
What is powering my refusal to be wrong?
What part of me still believes, “Nothing’s worse than making mistakes? Nothing’s worse than failure?”
Do I really believe that mistakes are what other people make?
Do I really believe that I’m above other people?
Am I really this horrified by my own humanity?
But what I’m feeling right now is not pride, or at least not purely pride.
There’s something else mixed in:
Fear with a side of panic.
I am terrified.
Which makes absolutely no sense!
People were inconvenienced but nobody was harmed.
My mistake was minor.
Just like the ones that ruined – forever – past friendships.
The High Price of Being Wrong
If you’ve ever been discarded because of an innocent error, you know all about hypervigilance.
You know the unwritten rule:
messing up means automatic abandonment
So you specialize in solving other people’s problems…and never being the cause of them.
You’re a master at fixing other people’s mistakes…and never being the one to make them.
You may not be much fun, but by golly, you are useful. You work so hard, you’re downright irreplacable.
Which means you won’t be discarded.
You won’t be left alone.
The Truth About Being Wrong
I have no history of relational repair. I only know one equation:
damaged = ruined
So my knee-jerk reflex is to leave before I’m left. Beat them to the punch. Lose the relationship to keep control.
But even as I plan my exit strategy, the Holy Spirit raises questions:
If this weren’t such a big deal for you, what would it be?
“That’s all?” Do you know what a mistake means?
What does a mistake mean for you?
It means that I was wrong!
I pause and wonder.
What would it be like to have a “That’s all?” attitude toward mistakes?
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin cautioned
But the [troll] in your head, that voice of insecurity and self-criticism, that’s the one you need to be the most vigilant about.
Do not feed the troll.
Do not reason with the troll.
Do not argue with the troll.
And I realize that for the last 36 hours, I’ve been feeding the bullies.
I’ve let Perfectionism, People-Pleasing, and Performancism hijack my head and heart over an honest mistake.
How to Stop Feeding the Bullies
I’ve been feeding my bullies copious quantities of
- rash decisions
- historical revision
No wonder they’ve grown so big and powerful!
Starting right now, my mental menu is changing to:
I made a mistake. I will make repairs as needed. And I will move on. This mistake does not define me. I am not my mistakes. These statements don’t necessarily feel true right now, but they will feel more true as I act on them.
fear terror of abandonment has been a 20+ Kleenex process. I start to beat myself up for making such a big deal over nothing … and then recognize the irony. Wishing the little girl part of my heart was more grown up will not help her mature. Taking good care of her will.
My friend assures me she still loves me in spite of my mistake. So I’m faced with a choice: I can redouble my efforts to never be wrong again (which is just a nice way of saying I can work extra hard to control her opinion of me.) Or, I can trust her, which turns out to be far less exhausting.
I’m making a list of lessons I can learn from this mistake. And ways to prevent it in the future. Not out of an obsessive Perfectionism but a sincere desire to grow.
I’m not quite here yet, but I will be soon. I will be able to see the absurdity in this whole mistake mess. And if I can use it down the road to bring the gift of laughter others? Best. Thing. Ever.
I initially tacked this on because I wanted a 6th item on the list (and it’s alliterative: Learning, Laughter, and Love!) I didn’t see a strong connection between love and making mistakes … love and being wrong.
How quickly I forget that love is the antidote to fear. How much I need to remember that
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7 (ESV)
Now the bullies have nausea; they can’t stomach any of these! I can sense them starving, even as I re-mind myself:
I made a mistake.
I was wrong.
* * * * *
What have you been feeding your bullies?
What can you add to your mental menu to starve those bullies down to size?
* * * * *
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