Photo by Esther Simpson
In life, we make mistakes. They’re as concrete as paying taxes and dying.
I often quote a saying: “If people supposedly learn from their mistakes, why are we not all geniuses?”
Regardless if mistakes make a person smarter, I do think mistakes in life are an absolute necessity.
There are the dumb redneck mistakes that make up the joke, “How do you know a redneck is about to die?” “He turns around to his peers and yells, ‘Hey, watch this!’”
Then there are the genuine mistakes where you hurt yourself or others, whether emotionally or physically.
A Mistake as a Child
I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes in life. One I made as a kid. I was climbing up a concrete waterside in the Philippines and someone happened to be coming down the slide at the same time. The person caught my legs and I landed face first on the concrete, sliding all the way down. As a consequence, my teeth were pretty much destroyed. It also didn’t help that soon after, I attempted to jump into a pool backwards and smacked those already-mangled teeth into the side of the pool.
“Snaggletooth” or “Buck-tooth Beaver” were names I often heard on the playground. As I grew older, people who genuinely didn’t like me would suggest, “I bet someone slammed a baseball bat in your face for talking shit.” People can be cruel.
It wasn’t until high school when an extremely kind lady (whom I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing her name) named Luann Gale offered to help fix my teeth. What followed were several surgeries and what seemed an endless amount of dental work. When I tell people I know how it “feels” to have root canals, teeth pulled, etc., I mean every word of it.
By the way Luann, if you ever read this, I am eternally indebted and thankful to you. You taught me how to smile again.
Mistakes Out of Your Control
But I was a kid when I made those mistakes. Why should I have to pay for them now and until the day I die? “That’s life”, some would say.
And they’re right. That is life. I can’t help but remember a quote from one of my favorite war movies Black Hawk Down. In the context of the movie, the quote is regarding war. However, it’s easily applicable to life in general.
See you’re thinking. Don’t. ‘Cause Sergeant, you can’t control who gets hit or who doesn’t or who falls out of a chopper or why. It ain’t up to you. It’s just war.
I can easily change this quote to reflect life and apply it to myself.
See, Ron, you’re thinking. Don’t. You can’t control what happens to you or others or why. It’s not up to you. It’s just life.”
So Who’s in Control?
The above quote easily reminds me of the dreaded topic of religion. If it’s not up to me, then who the hell is it up to? God? God is an easy fixture to place blame upon, but some mistakes I must simply own up to. God isn’t responsible for everything, right? At some point, assuming there is a heaven, I will have to account for the things I have or have not done.
So if God, or Jesus, or whoever, asks me, “Ron, what the heck have you been up to in life?”, I’ll probably laugh and say, “Read my fucking blog.”
Kidding aside, I’ll own up to my mistakes. I’ll own up to my regrets. And at the same time, I’ll tell the things I’m glad I have done, even if they were considered by others to be mistakes.
As a person, I don’t believe you are defined by the mistakes you have made. Mistakes are, in a sense, subjective. What may seem like a big mistake to you may seem like nothing to someone else. You might even get the dreaded “one-upper” who says, “Oh, you think that was bad? I once burned my father’s house down with my mother tied to the bed and ended up in a state correctional facility until I was 22.” And once you flee from that person, you can calm down and say, “Well, I guess I didn’t really have it that bad.”
Victims of Mistakes
And people often pay for mistakes made by others. Think politics and history. How much of the human race has fallen victim to a dictatorship or some bad policy made at the highest of levels?
What about children? The consequences of divorce weigh heavily upon them when their parents make the decision that getting married was a mistake. Or how about when a single mother is thrown into prison making her children wards of the state? In both cases, neither the parents or the single mother wanted to harm their children (yes, these examples are from personal experience).
Thankfully, mistakes of these sort can be repaired. In politics, it’s called damage control.
Is it a Mistake?
The good and bad thing about mistakes is that a person rarely knows it’s a mistake until after the event has occurred. And even then, what may seem like a mistake in the short-term eventually turns out to be the right thing to do.
Examples of these types of mistakes are:
- Getting divorced or ending a relationship
- Quitting your job
- Having children
- Moving to a foreign country
- Moving to a new city
- Going bankrupt
I have entertained all of these, and have acted on several (I’m not telling which ones). But in every single one of those I did act on, all seemed like mistakes at the beginning. Some were proven not to be mistakes right away, while others, I eventually warmed up to.
And yet, some, did end up being mistakes.
Recovering From a Mistake
So what’s Mr. Ronald to do now that he’s admitted something is a mistake? Besides talk in the third person, Ronald curses the heavens and proclaims, “Dammit, I was right all along! What the fuck?!”
Once I’ve realized I’ve made a mistake, I attempt to own up to it. I’m a stubborn bastard. I think I’m smarter than most people. I’ve also done some stupid fucking shit (I almost feel a Tarantino quote coming on).
What helps me move on is probably learned from life experience and from an unlikely source. This quote makes most people quiver, but it actually helps me. The quote is from Fight Club:
First you have to give up, first you have to *know*… not fear… *know*… that someday you’re gonna die.
The quote is blunt and straight to the point. You will die. However, it’s an empowering thought. It means that you’re expendable. It means you’re temporary. While many perceive that as a negative, I turn it around.
It means others are expendable. It means others are temporary. What it means is that nobody is special. We may all be unique snowflakes, but we all end up in the same gutter when the snow melts.
There are many mistakes in which you can make a quick recovery. An example is a late night drinking and the morning-after-plea, “God, please make this headache go away! I promise to never do it again!”
Other mistakes you live with and are haunted with for the rest of your life. Will I always regret being suicidal? Yes. Will I always regret leaving the Army? Yes. Do I feel I did everything I could have in my marriage to keep my wife? No.
However, as much as I will admit I made the mistakes, there’s nothing I can do to correct them except to keep living as best I can. If I live a life of regret, I honestly don’t feel like I’m doing myself any good. So I shrug, am honest if people ask about it, and move on.
And moving on is sometimes the only thing you can do. There’s not always recovery. There’s not always hope. But there is life. I want to live it.