What if you couldn’t make a mistake? Five lessons learned from a fatal mistake.
“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. ”
— RICHARD BACH
“Dr. Rogan — he’s here to see you.”
My heart dropped. The knot in my stomach grew tighter. My hands shook.
I made my way to the exam room, not knowing what to expect. The past week had been a blur, and there was a numbness that hadn’t left me yet.
I walk into the exam room, and on the exam table is an adorable puppy. I’m shocked. I’m confused. She’s here for her first puppy exam.
I talk with her new owner and learn that although the whole family was devastated, angry, and dumbfounded at what had happened the week prior, they had forgiven me. He told me that as he and wife processed their grief, his wife had reminded him of a patient he had lost early in his own medical career. He told me that this new puppy was to show his children the circle of life. He told me he understood how hard this must be for me as well.
You see, the week prior, just 10 weeks into my veterinary career, I had lost a patient under anesthesia. A fatal mistake that would haunt me for years and leave me feeling like I would never be a good enough vet.
That day of forgiveness and growth would be the one bright light during a very dark time in my life.
Throughout my personal development journey, I’ve always been intrigued by the belief that there are no mistakes or failures. That there are only lessons. That there are no wrong paths.
From the wisdom of years ago to the great influencers of today, you’ll hear this principle come up again and again.
I believe it. I really do. I’ve accepted failure and mistakes as a daily occurrence in my life. I’ve taken tons of missteps. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I spend a lot of time in my head versus actually focusing on the task at hand. And fortunately, I’m someone who’s okay with rejection. I’ve always been okay with putting myself out there knowing that it might mean my missteps are more public.
And again and again in each motivation talk, book, etc. I always hear the same line, “What’s the worst that can happen?” “No one is going to die from this mistake.”
BUT what happens when the mistake does result in death? In every other situation, it seems like it’s not a true mistake because the wrong could be made right. There is still time to correct course. But death. It’s forever. There’s no going back. No second chances.
So would it be possible for me and others who’ve had similar experiences really believe that there are no mistakes in life?
For me, it’s included time, forgiveness, extreme self-love, and a spiritual journey of finding my true purpose.
And although some reading this post will never be in the position of taking the risk of making a fatal mistake, so much can be learned from moving through such a grave misstep.
As we begin our last month of this decade, it’s time to stop hiding behind the fear of making a mistake, and instead it’s time to start to dreaming big again.
It’s time to finally forgive yourself for that major past misstep.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR MISTAKES OR FAILURES WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.
How hard is it for you to acknowledge your mistakes or failures without the added self-judgment? To truly own them as your own without going so far as to say, “I’m a failure”, “I’m stupid, or even “I am a mistake.” Perfectionism plagues us. And these conversations we are having in our head are really our ego talking.
In her famous Ted Talk, shame and vulnerability expert, Brene Brown discussed that there is a difference between thinking, “I made a mistake” vs. “I am a mistake.” One is guilt, the other is shame. Shame is a dangerous emotion that can cause us to feel sadness, isolation, depletion, and lead to depression.
In almost all of her books, Brene Brown teaches the process of how to rumble with shame and how to choose courage over comfort. If you have not yet read her books, here is an excerpt from Rising Strong discussing a failure at work.
If we don’t recognize our mistakes, own up to our mistakes as just mistakes, and set out on a journey of understanding our mistakes, we actually are operating from a fixed mindset and not allowing ourselves to grow.
It took me years to work through the shame after my anesthetic loss. From thoughts such as “I don’t deserve to do surgery” to “There are already enough good surgeons out there”, I needed to recognize that me beating myself up wasn’t helping anyone. Instead it was sending me down a shame spiral. Admitting to myself that I made this mistake but I was not the mistake was the first step in learning from it.
Failure is not permanent. It is a fleeting moment in which our ego has been deflated. It’s the time spent afterward ruminating about the mistake that causes us harm. So much energy can easily get wasted as we spend countless amounts of time beating ourselves up after we realized we made a mistake or failed at something. It bothers us because we care.
Adopt the mindset — progress not perfection. Take a pledge to fail 100 times next year.
2. YOU’RE DOING THE BEST YOU CAN IN YOUR SITUATION.
The only time that counts is the present one. And here’s the thing, no one really goes into something meaning to “make” a mistake. I certainly didn’t that day in surgery.
Choices get made from what we have learned so far on our journey. And many times that includes choices based on our past, our belief systems, and the current YOU. I was going through a very hard time in my personal life. It wasn’t even my surgery day. But when my colleague asked me if I wanted to do the surgery, I stepped up to the plate because, at that time, I didn’t say NO to things. I had loved surgery and wanted every opportunity I could to do it.
Analyzing constructively why you made a mistake or failed is healthy. Most mistakes are much smaller than my example and may have a really good reason for happening. It’s important if you want to stop repeating that mistake or never make it again, to take the time to dive deep into the why behind it. This will be uncomfortable. It may make you come face to face with a harsh reality about yourself. But if you’re willing to grow, ask yourself what systems can be set in place to avoid this mistake from happening again.
What I learned most from that day was the need to know myself and when I need to say NO. I learned that I need to set boundaries and cannot overextend myself because for me that is what always seems to lead to my mistakes. I learned about the importance of checklists in the medical and business world and vowed to always make sure systems were in place to minimize this risk again.
Give yourself grace and kindness as you move through your mistake. Since the mistake is now in your past, this present moment is a great time to rewrite your story and decide who you want to become going forward.
3. THIS IS HAPPENING FOR YOU, NOT TO YOU.
Again if you’re ready to develop a growth mindset, it’s important to realize that whatever mistake just took place, even if it was as harrowing as a fatal mistake, there is a higher calling for the reason.
The days are long but the years are short. In the initial years following the loss of my patient under anesthesia, I was terrified of it happening again. In addition to the shame I felt, there was also anger as to why that event had to be a part of my story and a lot of “why me” being questioned.
But the reality is the outcomes in life are really none of our business. Our business is to do the best with what knowledge we have in front of us and have faith that what does happen is all a part of our journey.
It literally took five years after the event to start relaxing a little more during surgeries. And I never would have imagined that that event would send me on a journey to where I would be writing this blog post right now with the goal to help others break through their own shame of making mistakes to set them free.
If you are on a spiritual path it’s time to surrender your thoughts and release expectations. All will be revealed to you.
4. YOU NEED AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER TO REALLY OPEN UP TO.
One of the things I struggled with after my anesthetic loss was finding the right person to talk to. So many people told me it wasn’t my fault, that these things happen, and that it was going to be okay. But what I needed was someone to sit in the emotion I was feeling with me, and really let me feel are the sorrow and pain and embarrassment.
To truly have empathy you need not to fix the problem or try to brush off the other person’s feelings. Here are some examples of how to find/be there for someone during the recovery part of a mistake:
IF YOU ARE THE PERSON WHO MADE THE MISTAKE:
Find someone you trust. In fact, as part of developing a stress resiliency plan, everyone should work to identify 2-3 people they know they can turn to whenever something difficult comes up. Those people can be a parent, a best friend, a colleague, a coach, or a therapist. Have a partner that will be there to listen to you as you process what happened and process your feelings.
IF YOU ARE THE PERSON BEING THERE FOR SOMEONE WHO MADE A MISTAKE:
Try not to say, “I know”. Even if you made the same mistake as them, you are on a journey unique to you, and you will never be able to fully know how another person feels. Instead, acknowledge what they are truly feeling. Let them talk about the pain and negative emotions and don’t brush them off. It takes so much courage and vulnerability for someone to share their mistakes out loud. Sometimes just talking out everything out loud and not having the other person trying to “fix” the mistake or dismiss the negative emotions is all that is needed to find relief in the pain.
5. MOST PEOPLE WILL NEVER HAVE THE FAILURES YOU HAVE.
Most people will never venture into the arena. Most people will live a mediocre life and keep that big dream and goal hidden within their heart and soul because they’re afraid of what if it doesn’t work out. They don’t take the chance.
When you step into your greatness. When you try to become something big, you’re going to fail. You’re going to take missteps.
It never gets easier of feeling the fear and moving through it. Pain is inevitable. If you’re going to live life fully, you’re going to have to stop running from negative emotions.
Oh, how I would have given anything to not have to have felt the pain that came from that anesthetic loss. And although I don’t necessarily know that time heals all wounds, I do believe time allows for wounds to birth a different YOU. I’m more ME and more WHOLE because I spent the time embracing the pain and feeling it.
Feeling the pain makes you stronger. And the reality is that love is on the opposite side of self-judgment and playing small. Unconditional love is waiting for you to take hold of yourself and realize you are the one you’ve been waiting for all your life. Self-love is critical for healing.
Give yourself credit for doing the hard and brave work that only few people will ever have the opportunity and ability to do.
If you have a big dream and goal and are afraid of putting yourself into the arena for fear of shame if you make a mistake and fail or if you’re struggling with moving past a big mistake you made, know that you are not alone. Although your journey is unique to you, the feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, are fear are universal feelings we all will feel in a life fully lived. Your self-worth is not defined by the outcomes in your life. What is the cost of not forgiving yourself or taking that daring step?
Start accepting yourself today as you are and your self-worth will start improving. Remember the path to sustainable success is how you define it. Start with one small step at a time. Unconditional love for yourself is just on the other side.
“You are the one you’ve been waiting for all your life. ”
— ELSA, FROZEN 2