Mistakes

When I was in pre-service training for Peace Corps (the first time), I made specific personal development goals for my two years in Niger, an emotional checklist. I wanted to run more than I ever had, read all the books I didn’t have time to in the U.S. and rebuild my spiritual life. I also wanted a new outlook on failing.

Throughout PST, I really struggled with learning French and I felt so behind in exploring the culture and building relationships because of my poor language skills, all of this on top of being in a foreign place and having to relearn basic chores, such as bathing and washing clothes. I did not regret my decision to go to Niger, but I was ashamed that I was so bad at it.

One day, while discussing an upcoming language test with another volunteer, she mentioned that she strived to be better at failing. Before that moment, I had run from, haphazardly fixed and awkwardly avoided failure. In this role, though, I would have to embrace it.

And, as a foreigner living in an unknown place, one fails. A lot. I repeatedly failed in Niger and then in Lesotho.

Then I came back to the U.S., and I was fragile again. I refused to let myself believe that I could make mistakes and that I should. Every small decision came down to making the best one. Do I take the job in D.C. or Seattle? Should I live alone or with a roommate? Should I eat a salad or a burrito? Should I stay in or go out? Should I take the bus or the train? These questions, both big and small, tortured me because I needed to find my purpose again, my destined path. All those ideas of failing gracefully were gone, because this wasn’t two years in Africa. This was my forever life, and I didn’t trust my internal compass.

One morning this week, I woke up to a flipping stomach. I knew I would have to make a decision about something – and honestly, not a big or life-defining one – but I didn’t want to, and I didn’t want to admit the reason why this decision was torturing me. When it was time to say yes or no, I went with my gut, which was definitely based off of fear and that made me feel guilty. The ‘should’ haunted me and I agonized about it all evening.

When I called my mother about it, she was empathetic and gave me room to talk out all sides of the situation. She understood why I wanted to say yes and why I wanted to say no, but she also reminded me that this is just one little thing, that it doesn’t determine my life or who or what will come into it. I can see the feelings I have and use them to make a more informed decision next time, she told me.

Later in the day, someone posted this video:


And I remember this video that someone shared with me when I was deciding on what job in what city to take:


Failure and making mistakes are not our enemies. They are lessons. They are guideposts. They are exactly what we need.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I knew that I was going to fail and that allowed me to do so vulnerably and without shame and guilt. My life is not defined but what I do or where I live or whom I spend time with but by the grace that I chose to live my life each day. That includes making mistakes, which I do because I am human.

I am sometimes not a good friend. I make errors at work. I am sometimes a pill and not fun to be around. I date the wrong men and lived in the wrong places. But, I am never lost. All of those things are a part of my grand path, which is full of love and joy, and as long as I live fully and compassionately I will know when to make changes and move in different directions. There are no mistakes, just living.

So, let’s mistakes. Let’s celebrate them because they will always guide us to where we want to be, if we allow them.

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