“Make mistakes.” This was my boss’s first piece of advice to me. It felt strangely familiar, knowing we must lose a few tokens to win the big chips. When I told him I appreciate his wisdom, he shook his head. “It’s not my idea. I just follow the principle.”
Now I make at least one mistake a day at work. Although, never the same mistake twice. I learn. We improve. And that’s business.
In my personal life, though, it’s hard for me to think about mistakes I’ve made. Not that it is hard to admit them, or announce them publicly on this blog. No, writing is the easy part. It’s literally just arriving at an answer to the question “What mistakes have I committed?” in my mind. That’s hard.
Naturally — ahem — there are so many great things I’ve done, which blind me. Even worse, were I allowed to feel this way, my brain is wired to focus on the positive in life, not to mention about myself, never mind the weaknesses therein. It’s just I’m too damn go-luck. And maybe that’s my principle mistake.
As a die-soft optimist, even I admit: it’s difficult to be whole, when all I focus on is the water in the half-full glass, holding my nose over the air I refuse to breath, let alone acknowledge.
Luckily, angels surround me. Folks close to me are quick to point out my blind spots. Friends have tugged a little too hard on my shirt sleeve, to keep me from falling into a manhole. Even mentors are willing to harness my beginner’s luck, by hinting at my rookie mistakes.
But — just like we don’t give a man a fish, nor do we ignore the title of this post — it pays to get to the heart of the problem at hand. To explore Why I make some mistakes more than others. So I can tug at my own shirt sleeve, broaden my vision, grow.
Borrowing from clinical psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson, our personal Holy Grail is that which is hardest to apprehend about ourselves. Legend has it that the Knights of the Round Table were all equal in status, yet each went their own separate way to find the cup that held the blood of Christ. It was reaching the edge of a dark forest when the men disbanded, because each one was told to enter the part which looked darkest for him. It was the only way to quest for the Grail.
The moral being — while someone who doesn’t introspect, nor ventures those difficult paths, won’t find spiritual redemption — someone who does will.
So hip-hip-hurray and a bloody cheers to the forest! Let’s enter. You first. No you first . . .
(But, really, must we? It’s so dark, and scary. A twig snaps and we run away. Did you see that shadow? No way! Bah. Stop.)
. . . I’ll go.
My darkest point at the edge of the woods, hinted earlier in the post, is admitting to myself that I’ve made a mistake. Yes, that’s what it is. Not to others, but to myself.
I have no problem admitting my mistakes to others, sometimes I even go out of my way to invent excuses that don’t exist, for things that aren’t my fault. They ask me about something, I make up an excuse, fake a slip up, or blame things on myself when clearly it was out of my control. Just to be funny, or plain avoid confrontation.
One example: “You’re still reading the same book?” a coworker asked after seeing I’ve been three weeks into Gone With The Wind. Instead of replying with the truth (“It’s 1000+ pages long! STFU”) I pretended like I am a slow reader. Outwardly, I blamed myself, and brushed it off.
Another example: to join a college radio station back in Texas, I had to complete a questionnaire, proving I had studied the rules and regulations of basic broadcasting. One question asked, “What’s the penalty for cursing on the air?” Answer “C” looked pretty good, it said, “Immediate suspension, a heavy fine, no questions asked.” But, honestly, I had guessed. Yet, when the trainer reviewing my test asked me if I had been serious about my answer, I replied, “Uh, yeah.” She laughed. “Oh, you just wanted to be funny!” I nodded, Sure.
Last example: I had one of the worst two beer drunks of my life once with a cunning, gossipy buddy of mine from grad school. Our exchange of rumors and comments about other people led to a horrible moment, personally, when he revealed that a handful of mates in the program hated my guts. “They think you’re extra.” When I pressed him to give me names, he wouldn’t. When I told him to explain, he replied I knew. It hurt so much to hear that about myself, that instead of speaking sincerely, instead of saying I have only ever acted out of silliness or fun or best intentions, I took it all on. “Fuck em!” I shouted. “I’m extra, so what!” and it was a bald lie that this crafty, triangulating buddy of mine enjoyed hearing.
If I had to guess, the reason people loved Witch Hunts wasn’t because anyone honestly believed they were doing the town a service by ridding it of an imaginary evil. Rather it was the despicable pleasure of making a beautiful woman confess to something everyone knew she didn’t do. I’m sure torture of war prisoners, beating them until they say 2 +2 = 5, is on par in pointlessness. All sadists want is to hear what they want to hear. They abhor Truth.
Why I listed these examples wasn’t to cite my one-off mistakes, but to show this global inventing, feigning, pretending that is at the base of what I want to correct by writing about it.
In a way, these examples are all forms of bullshit. And bullshit, my friends, is the cross I bear. The mistake or non-mistake that spring forth will continue until I face facts and change my placating ways, when I stop trying to please, when being honest becomes not just a virtue to admire, but a habit I embody.
Every time I lied to others, to allow them to believe what they already believe about me — while at the same time telling myself it’s their business, “fuck em, I’m safe within my soul” — I was actually committing a crime against Truth. No matter what I feel deep inside, if someone else is wrong because I let them, then it is my fault, for real.
Returning to the darkest point in the forest, and why we go there: if going inside is the only way to self awareness, then it is in the dead middle of that place that the only way is out.