Growing up is rough. There are a lot of things that we learn only by trial and error. Some of them are pretty natural to figure out, the Golden Rule, for example. On an intuitive level, we can kind of get there. “Oh, I don’t like when people do this to me. They probably don’t like when I do it to them.” Others, though, are pretty clearly counterintuitive. The thing that comes to mind for me as a teacher of high school students that I wish I could help them learn is how important it is to own your mistakes.
Again, it’s a tough lesson, because it goes so contrary to most of our instincts when we make a mistake. There are so many other options when I do what I shouldn’t. I can lie, deny, or excuse, and all of those seem like, if they work, they’ll be better than admitting that I messed up. Admittedly, if I lie or deny, I may get caught in it and have a bigger problem than the initial thing I was trying to get away from. Most of my students, then, aim for the excuse instead of the own. If it works, then they’re the victim and avoid the trouble. If it doesn’t work, then maybe it’ll at least reduce my trouble.
Now, I’m talking about my students, but let’s not pretend that graduating high school is the same as being grown up. We all still struggle to own our mistakes at times, after all. At the same time, though, what we hopefully have come to is the realization that everyone makes mistakes. Our only path forward, the only way for us to build and correct our previous experiences and mistakes is if we do own them. If we own the mistake, acknowledge it for what it was, and reflect on why we did it, then we are able to move forward.
The great shame in refusing to own it the mistakes isn’t just the dishonesty or cowardice, but the fact that until we own them, they own us instead. If I lie, I have to commit to the lie. My future decisions are now, on some level, driven by the need to cover the lie. If I deny my mistakes, I doom myself to continue making them and similar ones. It isn’t just for the sake of others, but for our sake as well, that we have to own them and move on.