What To Do When you F*ck Up

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Yesterday….yesterday was a lesson in humility.

A couple of days ago, my former students’ mother had called me to ask if I could have a chat with said student just to see how she was doing—she is a high level student and likes to be the best at everything she does, which is awesome but also leads to quite a bit of stress.  Based on her request, I made plans to pick my former student up for dinner before her big homecoming game where she was part of the homecoming court.  She had a narrow window of time, but we decided to make it work.

As fate would have it, my memory failed me and I ended up going to the wrong high school to pick her up.  This would have been fine, except it was 4:15 on a Friday in the middle of an overpopulated city, and her ACTUAL high school was allllllllllllll the way across town.

Cue me cursing other drivers, alternating slamming on the brakes and the gas, and finally breaking down in tears in the car as traffic sloooooooowlyyy crawled along the nine impossible miles.

I almost reached her high school when she called and asked if I’d like to meet at Subway down the road instead as her mom had come to pick her up and it would save time.

Burning with humiliation, I agreed.  And, in the manner that usually happens when things are going wrong, my GPS showed some unclear directions which added at least five minutes onto my commute in the opposite direction of my original trajectory.  Eventually, it was decided that we would meet on the following Wednesday as she was already late to her next commitment.

I died inside.

I had fucked up. Royally.  And even though my friends told me things like “it was an honest mistake” and “oh well, those things happen”, I couldn’t help but internally scream that these things don’t happen to ME.

Two glasses of wine later, I was feeling a bit better about the situation (helped in no small part by a generous pour from the sympathetic bartender), but still burning inside from the knowledge that my mistake didn’t affect just me, but had screwed up her day, and her mother (who had entrusted me to be there for her daughter) was a witness to my screw-up.

So, burning humiliation aside, how could this have been prevented?  How can we minimize those moments in our lives where we (hopefully only figuratively) screw the pooch?

Always double check the details, even when you think you know.  My mistake happened simply because I got the wrong high school in my head, and never once confirmed where I was supposed to meet her, specifically.  Making 100% sure of whatever critical details are pertinent to the situation at hand goes a long way in preventing those major collisions that result from not confirming the seemingly inconsequential details.

Conform to a standard of excellence.  The reason why this incident had me so shaken up yesterday is because this sort of thing is a very, very rare occurrence in my life.  I am very rarely late, much less completely at the wrong location.  I make it a point to deliver on any promise that I set forth, and I always make up for it when I fail to do so.  If you hold yourself to a high level of commitment no matter what task is set before you, you can almost ensure the complete or nearly complete lack of “ahhhhh FUCK” moments in your life.

Allow the moments of failure to spur you towards higher levels.  I could react to this incident by telling myself that it’s no use, I’m going to keep screwing up, so I might as well embrace it and not give it a second thought.  Or, I could realize that I am going to keep screwing up if I don’t take action, so I need to double down on my efforts to make those mistakes fewer and further between.  Whenever you use the fallout from your weaknesses as teaching moments, those weaknesses slowly start turning into strengths.  Recognizing that you are human does not have to be synonymous with constantly letting yourself off the hook.  Life is meant to be a growth process, not a continuous recline into our comfort zone.

Ultimately, make up for your mistakes that do happen.  I apologized profusely to my student.  I sent an “I’m SO SORRY” text to her mother.  I made sure that I texted my student this morning to see how the homecoming election turned out.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t be taking her to Subway for dinner on Wednesday.  You cannot erase mistakes, but no matter how small they are, you can show that you care enough to make them right, or as right as possible.

Each and every time you fuck up should be a time where you learn.  If you’re applying the knowledge gained from when you screw up, it will be very rare that you make the same mistake twice.  A flaw-free live is completely impossible, as much as the A-type personalities of the world wish it were so.  However, a life lived with integrity and purpose is as close as we can get.  Don’t allow your missteps to prevent you from finishing your path, and don’t allow your dirty shins and skinned knees to give you permission to sit down and throw up your hands.

Every. Single. Person. makes mistakes.  As with everything in life, it’s what you do AFTER those mistakes that truly makes the different between moving forward or sliding deeper into the mire of false contentment.  Pick yourself up, dust off your jacket with dignity, and step forward with a keener eye and sharper sense of purpose than before.