Today I want to talk about mistakes, your past, and the age-old process of “moving on.” Mistakes are a part of everyday life for all of us. Even the most successful among us make missteps, or perceived missteps every day. Whether it’s forgetting something you really needed at home or making a poor judgment call at work, these things can add up.

But for a lot of us there seems to be one situation that overshadows much of the rest, good and bad. It is the event that first comes to mind when someone asks: “What’s the one thing you could change?” I think it’s easier to deal with the small failures. It’s easy to brush them off or learn a quick lesson. That one event you wish you could change, on the other hand, just looms overhead like the spacecraft in Independence Day.

Now, this is not about breaking your shackles with a ray of sunshine. This won’t be the One Crazy Trick to Finally Set You Free. It’s a good long look in the situation mirror. It’s an opportunity to contextualize your failures and be free to grow moving forward. As you’re now considering what that situation is for you, keep these two things in mind:

You are not alone.

As I said earlier, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone feels crappy about themselves sometimes. It’s important to know you’re not alone. Find others who have a similar shared pain. While you don’t want to have a pity party, being around someone who can identify with your unique experience can be very therapeutic. Experiencing the way others perceive a problem similar to yours can be demystifying and relieving. Whether it’s in a one on one or a group setting, I’d encourage you to seek out someone whom you’re comfortable sharing your pain with.

If that doesn’t fit into your schedule or you’re not comfortable talking about the situation, go to the library or bookstore. Books are next best to face-to-face contact when it comes to building empathy and making sense of our experience. Do some online research and find an author who speaks to you.

This failure has put you in a place to succeed.

Learn to forgive yourself and others. Approach the situation like a scientist. Be analytical, and learn from the situation like you would from sticking your hand in a fire. Fire hot. Fire burn. Although we want it to be that simple, the answers just don’t come that easily. Still, we can learn from our experiences, as little sense as they seem to make. What led up to the event? Was it a rash decision or a series of behaviors that snowballed over time? If it’s the latter, where are those behaviors now?

This is also your opportunity to take ownership of the situation. Release blame from the equation. If someone else was involved in your pain, absolve them of guilt. Acknowledge that you are the only one with power over your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

If you don’t suddenly feel better, good. I think about this exercise as a discussion about designing and building keys to open these doors, not a demonstration of how to bust them down with your forehead. Just remember, you are not alone and this failure has put you in a place to succeed.

photo credit: Scotland (2009) – Pretending to ice-climb Carn an t-Sagairt Mor, Cairngorms via photopin (license)