While Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter was away at school, she wrote a letter to her father telling him how devastated she was about a past mistake. Apparently this mistake haunted her and she was having difficulty putting distance between herself and her mistake.
Her father, with the wisdom we’ve all come to expect from him, wrote the following reply to his daughter:
Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; but get rid of them and forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day, and you should never encumber its potentialities and invitations with the dread of the past. You should not waste a moment of today on the rottenness of yesterday.
“Finish every day and be done with it…” great advice!
I’ve always taught my daughters to take a certain, systematic approach to mistakes.
- Own it. If you made a mistake, admit it. Never, ever try to pin the blame on someone else or even try to share it with another. If you did something that was less than your best – admit it, how else will people know you’re capable of better?!
- Apologize When Necessary. Oy. Pulling teeth, this one. Amongst my daughters, apologies are are as rare as unicorns. Their approach (like most siblings) is to simply stew a while, then return to normal. As their mother, I’d much rather see sincere apologies – but as any parent knows, the return to normal is goal number one!
- Learn From the Mistake. Sit your mistake down at the table and interrogate him. Find out why he came onto the scene, where the crack was that allowed him to creep through, and what you can do to keep from seeing his miserable face again. If you had an angry outburst, you may determine that you aren’t getting enough sleep or that you’re carrying stress from work home with you.
- Let Go. Once you’ve admitted your mistake, apologized, when necessary, and have learned at least one lesson… let go!
Letting go is silver advice for your own mistakes – but it’s golden advice for others’ mistakes. If someone has made a mistake – let it go as well. Even if they owed you an apology and you didn’t get it – you have something else: You have a chance to be the bigger, cooler, kinder, more mature person. And do you really think they won’t notice?
Something I’ve always told my daughters is this: When a mistake is made, you’ve lived through it once – and that’s plenty. If you keep dwelling on it and reliving it, you’re living through it again and again and again and that’s downright insane.
Whether the mistake was your own, someone else’s mistake, or a combined effort… Let go and live on.