Imagine being remembered for your worst day or most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done. It’s not hard to imagine, is it? Don’t you have someone in your life, maybe even on the fringe, who witnessed you at an awkward time that “helps” keeps those memories alive for you? It doesn’t matter if you cure cancer, walk on Mars, or convert plastic into chicken nuggets, you will still be remembered for what you got wrong instead of what you got right. How can you change that?
My thirteen-year-old daughter Sierra recently ran into some friends she attended school with some years before. One of these girls struggled to remember my daughter until she reintroduced herself.
“I’m Sierra,” said my daughter.
“Oh!” the girl replied as her memory returned. “You’re the girl that had lice in 1st Grade!”
Yes, Sierra thought to herself, along with every kid in the class! Is that my legacy?
Can You Outlive Your Worst Day?
Short answer: maybe. Some people don’t want to change how they see you. When they compare you at your worst to themselves at their best, they like what they see. Such a side-by-side makes them feel better about their own choices, lives, and outcomes. They want you closeby to make themselves look or feel good. To those people, wish them a happy life, but don’t invest in them.
More importantly, how do you move forward after you make a huge mistake or do something that causes you terrific embarrassment? Sadly, I’ve had quite a bit of experience in this arena, so here’s what I’ve found that gets me unstuck–
If your actions have harmed another, clean the slate by asking for forgiveness. It’s hard. After I lied to my neighbor when I was seven, mom marched me back to the neighbor’s house so I could own it, apologize, and ask forgiveness. That painful experience gave me a clean slate with that neighbor after that day. My mom knew that my asking forgiveness would make it less likely that I would repeat my original mistake.
Asking forgiveness also benefits the person who forgives you. According to Mayo Clinic, forgiving another–
- Builds healthier relationships
- Improves mental health
- Reduces anxiety, stress, and hostility
- Lowers blood pressure
- Minimizes the symptoms of depression
- Create a stronger immune system
- Improves heart health
- Elevates self-esteem
In other words, you asking forgiveness is like offering a person one pill that deals with hypertension, heart disease, mental health, and more.
You also need to forgive yourself, which can be the hardest challenge of all. People get into “car accidents,” not “car on purposes.” You screwed up. It happens. Maybe it hurt you as well as others. Hold on to these words of wisdom from the late, great Dr. Maya Angelou when you’re tempted to let your worst day define you:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Learn from Your Mistakes
Angelou’s words segue nicely into this pearl from Henry Ford:
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
So you screwed up. Congratulations, here’s your Human Card. Ask forgiveness to earn your Humility Card. Now that you know better, make different choices, and determine to learn from your mistakes. Here’s you Growth Card.
When my son was three, he was smarter than his parents. Or, at least, sometimes he acted like it. He thought when we said, “Don’t touch the stove. It’s hot,” that applied to others, not him personally. You can guess what he did when we turned our backs. Yup. He got a bit singed. But do you know what he’s done since? Having learned, he made different, better choices.
Laugh at Yourself
Maybe you didn’t hurt anyone but instead simply embarrassed the crap out of yourself. Been there, done that. Who am I kidding? I embarrass myself on a regular basis. Like when I dove into the pool and my swimming trunks made a fast getaway from my body while a class of senior women did water aerobics a few feet away. I could have held my breath for as long as possible and then eventually drown. Or I could as nonchalantly as a large, naked man can manage, paddle over to my shorts some fifteen feet away with an expression on my face that said, “You’re welcome.”
I chose the later. As did my daughter Sierra who laughed and laughed at how a schoolmate remembered her as “the girl with lice.”
Laughing at yourself gives other permission to laugh with you instead of at you. It reconfirms your Human Card, and it makes you more likeable. Research shows that laughing at ourselves also improves heart health and short term memory, better equips you to deal with life’s setbacks, and can even help manage pain.
It’s okay to visit Oopsville. But we don’t have to live there. And we certainly don’t have to let others insist we live there!