“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” ~Johnny Cash
We have all heard time and again that it is perfectly normal for us to make mistakes. With that said, we always seem to have a difficult time letting them go. Sure, we can brush off that insignificant mix up at work no problem, but it is a lot harder to forget how we hurt the feelings of someone we care for. Sometimes our mistakes stick with us, they pile up, and soon we are haunted by them. The truth of the matter is that we allow ourselves to be constantly reminded. Whether it is because we live in fear of repeating the mistake or we feel like we deserve to be punished for it, we burden ourselves by holding on. After a while, living in regret can affect our daily lives. When this happens, it is time to give ourselves a break, let it all go, and give ourselves a clean slate. While it does not erase any damage or mean that everything in life will be mistake-free from this point onward, we can move on with our lives without being bogged down by regrets. Let us assemble our clean slate.
The first step is to accept that while we all make mistakes, no one will feel their gravity more than the person who made them. Very rarely is someone forcing us to relive or mentally torture ourselves over our mess-ups. We do it to ourselves. Sure, a certain person or event may cause us to be reminded, but they do not demand us to continue replaying the memories. Our loved ones may offer sympathy or advice, but they cannot stop us from tossing and turning all night wishing we did things differently. In other words, we are only harming ourselves by replaying it all in our heads. No one else feels our pain, and no one else can let it go.
The second and hardest step is to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made. They happened. They are done. We are not doing any favors by allowing ourselves to hurt, dwell, and whine “why, oh why did I do that?” Instead, we can learn and grow. Let’s take the lesson of the mistake with us, not the mistake itself. We cannot do that if we are feeling sorry for ourselves about them. While forgiving ourselves can be easier said than done depending on the gravity of our situation, it is the vital step to obtaining a fresh start. Bear in mind, forgiving ourselves will be easier if we learn not to think about what might have been if we did or did not do that one thing, or if we did it differently. It is impossible to know and focusing on it will do nothing but bring more upset. The past is finished, but we have an opportunity with the future, especially if we let go of our wrongs, come to peace with ourselves, and move toward that sought after clean slate.
Yes, there are some mistakes that are heftier than others, thus making them harder to release. Sometimes those mistakes morph into baggage. What is vital is that we do not become defined by said baggage. Let it be a layer, like our guilty pleasures or flaws. We are human, we are imperfect, and we all have some form of baggage that may be checked for inspection through the airport security of our peers. We are not the baggage; we are the vacationers who lug it around. But we can lighten it by not putting all our dirty laundry into it, but only the appropriate amount of thought souvenirs. Whether our respective mistakes are carryon-sized, suitcase-sized, tiny and ultimately insignificant, or gigantic and life-altering, odds are we are the only ones who are going to carry their weight. The fact of the matter is, we do not have to. We do not have to dwell on them or let them define our lives. We can accept them, forgive ourselves, and carry onward.
Finally, embrace the future with an open mind. The future is where the clean slate begins. Anything can happen at the future. It’s clean, it’s open, it’s ours. Let’s not go in there afraid of messing it up. And it is certain, with us being human, that we are going to mess up again on some scale. Just because it is inevitable does not mean the cycle of holding on has to continue. Now that we know how to let go, we can polish the slate to keep it clean. It does not have to become dirty or burdened with regrets or memories of mishaps. So, let’s carry it into the future.
Everyone wants a fresh start from time-to-time. For some, this means packing up all their possessions and leaving the past behind in a physical sense. But, as we are all aware, beginning again externally does not matter unless we can begin again internally. That is why it is handy to have a clean slate to carry with us wherever we may go. All that we truly need to do is look inwardly and accept what has passed. Let the past rest where it belongs, and let the mistakes stay there with it. It is now time to take our lessons (minor or major), forgive ourselves, and admire just how shiny our new slate is.
Challenge: Let go of one mistake. Let’s identify a single regret we made that we are clinging to (that one major hiccup at work, a failed test grade because of lack of preparation, breaking a promise to our best friend, etc.) and make our peace with it. We deserve more than to be left dwelling on the past . . . we owe it to ourselves to forgive ourselves.