Honestly can anyone say they know a perfect person, one who has never made a mistake, also known as a “saint”? Oscar Wilde once said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”. I am here to tell you that just because you make a mistake does not mean your life is over and it can be possible to move forward from it. I also understand that some mistakes are bigger than others, and it is what we do with them that matters most. In fact, mistakes can turn out to be the best kind of teachers. Allow me to share a little story with you about recently making a mistake. In the scheme of life it was not a disaster, but it hit me like a ton of bricks, or a freezing body of water, as it were!
Recently, on an excursion to Venice, Italy – the land of water and bridges – I was disembarking a ferryboat and saw a wonderful photographic opportunity. Across from the dock that I was currently standing on, I noticed the island across the deep sea was completely illuminated by the golden hour sunset. The photographer in me needed to get this shot so I stood there next to the ocean blue and snapped the picture. I didn’t like the composition of the photo (all hail the digital age) so I searched for a better angle and noticed a step, a moss covered step. My brain rationalized this area to be a good spot to put my two feet down on so I went for it. As I stepped down onto this slippery rock, my foot flew out from under me. As I felt myself falling backward I tried to find land. Unfortunately the ocean was the only place for me to go. I threw my camera into the air and realized that my bag was still strapped across my body. Let your imagination go wild here.
Yes, I fell into the ocean…hard, and it was freezing cold. Yes, it was deep and my head and all of my belongings went under the water. No, my feet never found the ocean floor. I do not remember thinking about anything as I swam back up to the surface and hoisted myself back onto the dock. As I rose out of the water I saw people’s looks of disbelief (some laughing). Everyone rushed to make sure I was all right. “Are you ok?” “How’s your camera?” “Was your cell phone in your travel bag?” were all being yelled at me at once. People did not know whether I was embarrassed, terrified or hurt. I have lived through being run over by a car, loosing loved ones, getting myself into very dangerous situations but in this moment everything changed. I knew I was in control of how I moved forward from this moment. I pulled my phone out of my bag, wiped it off (it worked!), and then made sure my camera had survived. I realized there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to change the past few minutes of my life so I laughed with my friends, assured the lovely people of Italy that I was fine, bought myself some dry boots and clothes (bonus!) and promised myself to never do that again.
I realize the mistake I made is not life altering, but what I did with it for me was. I changed my reaction to the event. What defines us as people is how we handle a situation good or bad. Do we immediately reach peak anxiety level or do we find a way to work things out? For me, I have chosen the second path, and it has been a journey.
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I promise you that I will make more mistakes in my lifetime and believe me you will too. If we allow ourselves to learn from these moments the next time the same problem arises we will change our behavior and have a different outcome. Life’s mistakes will continue until we truly learn from them and understand what they were meant to teach us. I also have found that when we stop caring about the judgments of others and beating ourselves up about things, we give ourselves more freedom to be who we are. This way when you make a mis-“take”, take advantage of it and call it an opportunity, make it a “take” 2. You are in charge of your life and only you can decide how an event makes you feel and how to move forward from it. So go out there and turn a fall into the ocean into an afternoon swim.