Motivational speaker Derek Clark explains the power in forgiving ourselves. We all make mistakes. It’s a fact of life. We lead ourselves into disagreeable situations by habit, an inability to trust our instincts, or just the natural lack of foresight that comes from not completely knowing the future. We all improvise through life—sometimes we eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats us. This is true of all living things, from the smallest insect to the largest mammal. We are lucky enough as human beings that our missteps don’t often end up with us getting gobbled up by some larger creature.
We are, however, in danger of being gobbled up—not by some bigger beast, but by our own choices. When we are proactive, we push against the world. This is great! It’s the vital, enjoyable, thrilling way to experience life. Sometimes, though, the world pushes back. We should expect this. If we make a bad call, we cannot let that send us into a spiral of doubt or indecision. When we realize we’ve made a poor choice—well, that is the very moment to make the NEXT choice, and mix up circumstances all over again.
Stagnation really goes against the grain of most people. We chafe against it. We tend to prefer development, evolution, and change. More than that, we like the idea that we are advancing somewhere. Marine Corp officer candidates are taught during their training that the worst decision is indecision. Once we choose a path, we change the game and don’t look back. We cannot waste time second-guessing ourselves.
There is the famous old saying: “Once bitten; twice shy.” And this is prudent advice for somebody who has put him or herself out there and been stung for doing so. But don’t pile one mistake on another, and become “too shy.” Course corrections are always available to us. Just because we made the wrong decision doesn’t mean we sit and stew in the unfavorable results for the rest of our lives. A mistake is just a lesson learned. Bad decisions help us refine our next choice, one we make with better information and deeper experience.
I am reminded of a sixty-five year-old taxi driver I met recently. He asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a motivational speaker for personal and professional development. Like many others who learn of my profession, he decided to open up about his life to see if I had any advice. He’d been married for twenty-seven years, and had tried to commit suicide two years prior by overdosing on pills. His wife found his body and helped revive him. He was grateful he didn’t succeed in committing suicide, but said that, though he thinks his wife is a great person, he is not attracted to her. He said that ever since his suicide attempt he had been attracted to many of his passengers and one of these days would like to “take it to the next level.”
I didn’t really want to dwell on his attraction to his passengers, so much as try to get back to his childhood. Many of the problems we have as adults have their roots in our upbringing. Come to find out, he had a very rough childhood. His parents were alcoholics, which drove him to seek aid and comfort from a male church leader he trusted. This church leader tried to have an inappropriate relationship with him. So he was cut off emotionally from his parents, and spiritually from the religion that was supposed to sustain him during difficult times.
This sense of being isolated from his social world led him to make many bad choices, starting from a young age. These added up, until he felt like he couldn’t escape from the consequences. He felt trapped in a prison of his own making, and that’s why he wanted to end his life. I told him that it must be really hard to carry all of these difficulties with him his whole life, but that it was time to forgive others and, more importantly, forgive himself.
I told him to write a letter to himself listing all the things he forgave himself for. Writing is very therapeutic, but it also helps to hear a message. So I wanted him to read the letter out loud to himself and process it aurally as well. Who knows if he ever followed my advice. Many hurting people know what to do, but don’t do what they know.
Sometimes our poor choices stack up, and churn the ground beneath our feet into quicksand. We must remember to relax, breathe in, and not let our current situation rob us of the will to make changes. Don’t’ wallow in a temporary negativity—take action! Don’t spend so much time going over the past that you allow it to define you. Stories are narratives we impose on facts; you can always divorce yourself from a bad story. Become a warrior, not a worrier.