Mistakes…I’ve made plenty.
But even after making so many, it annoys me to no end when I do.
Annoyance forces me into rumination which in turn leads to anger and anger turns into self-flagellation.
Now, it is a given that not everyone reacts as vehemently as I probably do, but by and large, people really hate making mistakes.
“You learn from your mistakes,” they say.
But who are ‘they?’ The ubiquitous ‘they’ to whom we tend to assign these beatific, angelic phrases that frankly make no sense to me.
No one ever told me that when I was growing up.
But then, I come from a background in which mistakes were not permitted. Every time I made one, it was cause for severe and instant harsh admonishment, reprimands that went on, and a running history of my mistakes that was brought up the next time something happened.
In my innocence, I dealt with mistakes with elaborate coverups: lies that I told, excuses I invented, pointing that awful rigid finger at anyone else, just away from me.
But then when I was found out, and the coverup exposed, the punishment was worse.
Sadly, it was all I knew. And so I stuck to it and lies became part of my self-defense and self-protection mechanism. And it became so ingrained that I didn’t think twice about lying. It became ‘normal.’
Of course, what that did was allow me to shed the responsibility of mistakes and stunt my growth, something I didn’t realize until I was handed an opportunity that I got because I talked a good game, not because I was necessarily the most qualified.
I was in my very early twenties and I became the Director of Publicity for EMI Records in New York after having spent a few years after college in Los Angeles.
There were five people on my team and I really had no idea how to run the department. I wanted perfection and I was demanding and brash. I did not lead…I trod on people. Everyone else was wrong and I was the only one who was right. I was perfect. Why couldn’t people see that? And because I was arrogant and foolish enough not to admit it and ask for help, I got fired.
I was devastated.
That was my wakeup call. That mistake was humiliating enough to begin to force me into rethinking how I dealt with mistakes, with people and with life.
But it did not happen overnight. It took a while. And by a while, I mean a couple of decades.
As my career took me from the music business to food and wine, journalism, entrepreneurship and flamenco dancing, of course I made mistakes, and with each mistake, I believe I subconsciously knew that my default mechanism was wrong…but I had a tendency to ignore that little voice that kept showing up.
And then one day, I could no longer ignore it.
Shortly after I decided to be a full time writer, I also realized I could not afford to live in New York City, so I came up with a plan that would help me pay my bills and keep writing.
My strategy was to get a job that didn’t make me think too much, one that was more mechanical, something that was 9 – 5 with weekends off, benefits, and the requisite 2 weeks holiday a year.
A PA, a personal assistant, ticked all those boxes. In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t the right position for me, I didn’t relish the idea of being a PA, but…I did have bills to pay and I convinced myself that it would be fine.
I went out and interviewed and got a job immediately. And was fired 6 weeks later.
But I stuck at it…And over the course of the next seven years, I kept getting jobs and getting fired. I worked for real estate magnates, billionaires, sporting team owners, bored Park Avenue matrons, even a film director…but I kept hitting that brick wall. Nothing seemed to stick and the stress of not being able to hold one of these jobs was starting to get to me. I was unhappy, my confidence plummeted and I put on weight.
I actually calculated that over the course of 5 years, I’d had 10 different jobs. What the hell?
That’s when it came me: I’d made a mistake and I’d been lying…to myself. I couldn’t be a PA. I wasn’t cut out for that kind of service. But I couldn’t admit to myself that I was wrong.
The only person I was really hurting here was myself.
And the straw that broke the camel’s back was when the last person I worked for called me on a Sunday night at 11pm,
“Can you come in tomorrow and iron my yellow Prada first thing,” she said. “I want to wear it at lunch.”
The next day, I went in and quit. It was the first time I’d actually quit. And when I walked away, I was beaming with happiness. I’d finally admitted I wasn’t perfect. It had taken me some time, but I’d done it. But the main thing is I was happy.
Of course, I still had bills to pay…so I pivoted and went back into the world of wine: I worked my way up into becoming the wine director for a top New York City restaurant, which of course, closed in March.
But I’m no longer worried. I’m going to be fine.
I know now that I no longer have to hide behind stories and excuses. I am who I am, flaws and all and people can either like me or not. And the most important lesson is that I have to be truthful…to myself in order to move on.
Through all this, happiness with oneself is the best form of resilience.
My story is not uncommon. If you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, take a step back. Don’t beat yourself up. Appreciate what and who you are. And that, my friends, is the first step towards acceptance of oneself and happiness. It’ll make living with yourself a delight.
And the added bonus is people will see it.
Follow your heart or your gut: it will never lead you astray.