You Can Cringe at Your Old Mistakes

Stop beating yourself up and learn from your stupid.

Sometimes you facepalm at yourself. Everyone’s done something stupid once or twice. So reckless that the memories make us wince. The good news? Nobody else remembers. Except that one time my friend threw her shoe through a bar window.

I mean, we all definitely remember that…

But she’s redeemed herself. Now she runs a whole department, after she stopped dating losers who triggered her.

Some of my friends never made it to the summit of redemption. I remember when a college friend took off all her clothes at a party. And I still remember the guy who got so wasted at a conference he forgot where his hotel was, and then started grabbing girls’ butts, so we tossed him in an Uber. Everyone except him remembers that.

These types might not ever wince at themselves. So we cringe on their behalf, and wait for their Buddha moment.

Older me still winces at 21-year-old me. Younger me was talented, but arrogant as hell. She hadn’t earned it. Not even close.

Make a list of the stupidest stuff you’ve done.

I’m talking about the moments when it’s all you, baby. Not the kind of mistakes where you simply trusted the wrong person. Or let someone take advantage of you. No, I mean pure unbridled dumb.

Now take a minute to replay those clips in your head. Stop to laugh at yourself. Make a face. At least roll your eyes.

Then ask why you did that.

Younger me once asked a U.S. senator his opinion on a local city issue during a major press conference. She misunderstood what her editor wanted. Younger me also asked a grassroots organizer to explain what the AFL-CIO was, instead of looking it up herself.

Both times, younger me’s face turned pink.

Younger me also got into an argument with the editor of a national literary magazine over email. She showed up to writers’ conferences with dinky little business cards printed on her home computer. Actually handed these things to literary agents, who smirked and crumpled them up.

Younger me had a lot to learn.

Examine the bottom of your shoe.

These kinds of moments stick to the bottom of our shoes. We can’t scrape them off. Maybe we shouldn’t try. Examine the gum and gunk. It’s good for you. Keeps you in check.

We’re always at risk of stepping in our own stupid.

But if you face it, then you can figure out what happened and why. Then you can learn to do better.

Younger me was desperate for success. Impatient. A little arrogant. She got that way by taking cues from the wrong people. She convinced herself that introverts couldn’t win at life. So she went against her true nature, instead of working with it.

Stop throwing shoes through bar windows.

You can always change your behaviors — even your outlook. You can start making smarter decisions. Mend your reputation. But only if you face up to your own stupid and make a real transformation.

Around 25, I embarrassed myself at a bar. Twice.

Both times, I was reacting to an ex. Wanted to impress them somehow. Show them I’d moved on. Did the opposite. When you try to share good news, but wind up slurring, it really undermines your status.

Maybe you’ve lived this story. One of my friends did the exact same thing that year. She’s the one who threw a shoe through a window at a bar. Made scenes like that for the better part of six months.

Another friend cracked a glass table top. That’s what happens when the love of your life explains that you’re just a fuck buddy. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to spiral into a complete tailspin.

Put your shoes back on.

Every stupid thing we do has a reason behind it. A motivation. A goal. The reason even makes sense. We’re just going about it ass backwards. The girl who strips down at a party wants attention.

The guy who forgets what hotel he’s staying at? He’s drinking so he can forget something else. He’s grabbing girls’ asses because he has no idea how to form a healthy human connection.

He probably wants to forget that, too.

We 20-somethings were all throwing our shoes at people and cracking table tops. What was going on with us?

Finally, we figured it out. We were trying to punish someone for ruining our lives. But after a while, you start doing every douche bag’s job for them. And you don’t even realize.

So we owned our bad behavior and dealt with it — arrogance and everything. Wasn’t easy. Took a few years. But it happened.

Keep yourself humble.

Almost everyone knows that humility paves the way anywhere. But when you experience a little success, it can crumble fast.

So how do you stay humble?

By remembering your top 5 or so stupid moments. Let yourself wince. You don’t have to tell anyone else.

But you’re doing yourself a real favor. Maybe you’re awesome now by comparison. But you’re also prone to error. Just like everyone else. One of us might do something really stupid tomorrow. But hopefully not quite as stupid as before. And we’ll recover with some grace and dignity.

Nobody likes to wince at themselves. We have a movie in our head, where we’re the persecuted heroine. The masked vigilante.

Sure, we’ll admit our mistakes as long as they make us look good. Not the ones that make us look petty and ignorant. But we have to do that. It’s the first step to owning yourself.

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