Why One Mistake Doesn’t Erase All of the Good Things You’ve Done

Last fall I messed up. Big time. As in I’m pretty sure I [entirely unintentionally] potentially made children cry. Unfortunately, the unintentionally doesn’t seem to matter so much.

I coordinate an educational program to get kids excited about engineering. No I’m not an engineer and yes I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So what am I doing here? Before I decided to start pursuing writing about my passion full time, I wanted (and still want) to make sure that all children get access to great programs, and that’s what most of my day job is about. It might be a little outside my scope, but my experience in education seems to make up for it.

At the end of each year, there is a state competition that we host for all of the teams that advanced from their local tournaments. My first year, I was told we were able to send the winning team from each day to the World Championships! It was so exciting, and I couldn’t have been more proud of the two teams that advanced. This year, when entering the names of the two champion teams from each day, I noticed the computer system only let me make one submission. “There must be some sort of mistake!”, I thought. We have two days of competition, which means that two teams advance.

It turns out, I missed a link that was in a folder that was sent in one of many newsletters that gets sent out to coordinators usually containing things that aren’t remotely close to imperative to efficiently running your program. (Did that sentence make you feel overwhelmed? How my general inbox makes me feel!) Was it my fault for not reading every word? Yes. Was it realistic to think that I would be directly notified about something like this? Also yes. However neither of these answers changes the fact that because of something I missed, one group of kids is going to feel completely devastated.

I can’t help feel like a bad person. Like all of the sleepless nights during the season, 80 hour work weeks, missed time with my husband, and friends thinking I fell of the face of the earth or hated them because I barely had time to respond to a text – was for nothing. Like none of it mattered and that I had failed entirely as both a person and an educator.

On top of all that, for those of us that are on the worrisome side and especially for those of us that have anxiety, my anxious thoughts started spiraling out of control. My brain seemed to have completely lost touch with reality for a moment and I was caught up in the destructive tornado that is anxious thinking. Even though I had just received a stellar review from my supervisor, I couldn’t help but worry about getting fired. One thing led to another and in my mind not only was I fired, but I was banned from ever getting a job at the same institution, I had lost my tuition reimbursement which meant I had to drop out of my master’s program, my dreams of being a full time mental health advocate were shattered, and all of my friends hated me because they didn’t want to be around such a terrible person.

This was not healthy and I needed to find something to stop this thought process IMMEDIATELY! I got up out of the chair and went for a walk, trying get my mind off things. Even though this feeling was absolutely miserable, I tried to counteract it with remembering many of the positive things that had happened throughout the season – like all of the scholarships that kids from underserved areas received, the fourteen plus tournaments that went off without a hitch to provide thousands of kids in the state with a great experience, and the fact that one of the hardest people in the entire world to please had sent me a thank you letter for one of the best seasons this program has seen yet.

I then realized that I had to remember that although this is not even remotely close to a positive situation, and although I had to accept responsibility that there will be a group of people upset because of something I missed, it doesn’t change the fact that I still did a lot of incredible things this year.

It was an honest mistake and something I wouldn’t have thought to check. That didn’t make it okay or mean that nobody got hurt. It did mean, however, that I didn’t get to spend the rest of my life, or the rest of my day even, feeling terrible for this one mistake. Feeling terrible about yourself doesn’t fix anything, trying to find a resolution does. This didn’t make me a bad person, and most importantly, it absolutely meant that I needed to forgive myself. To show myself love and compassion while I took responsibility for my mistake, and tried my best to fix it.

It’s so interesting how quick we are to berate ourselves when we’ve done something wrong. If this exact same situation had happened to one of my friends, I would treat them far kinder than I had been treating myself during the experience. If we’re not able to forgive ourselves and move forward, it’s pretty promising that we can expect some negative side effects from all of the anger we are holding onto.

Of course we have to take responsibility for our actions, but we also need to remember that we are human. That we deserved to be loved and forgiven, even when we make mistakes – especially by our own selves. Forgiving and loving others is important, but forgiving and loving yourself is imperative. By all means, take responsibility for your mistakes, but don’t let them define who you are as a person.

Much love,

Hilary

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