How to Forgive Yourself for Being Stupid and Everything Else

Tangled fishing line When you’re driving to work or doing something where you zone out for a minute, do you ever randomly remember weird/stupid/embarssing things from your past and feel terrible about it for no reason? For example, when I was a stupid kid, I once said something very racist to a black lady without realizing that I was saying something racist. The worst part of the memory is that she was too nice or too flabbergasted to correct me, and she simply smiled and walked away. I would NEVER say the same thing as an adult, but I still feel like a jerk for saying it way back then. When I remember this moment, I just sigh real loud or make a noise like, “BLARGH! Shut up brain!”

But here’s the thing, you’ve got to know when to let go.

Here are some other things I obsess about:

  • everything that’s wrong with me
  • always falling just shy of perfection on my 4th grade spelling tests
  • that time in 6th grade when I was told I was overweight and the fact that I have weighed approximately the same thing ever since
  • that time in the 3rd grade when I couldn’t memorize the multiplication tables, and these two kids made fun of me for it
  • that time in kindergarten when my mom was quietly listening to some other parents talk and, thinking she was acting too shy, I told her in front of everyone that she should talk more because she looked like a nerd

These are all rather meaningless things, but I sometimes drag them out when I feel inexplicably compelled to beat myself up.

Not every problem is a knot to untie. Not every snag is a nail that must be beaten down. Sometimes, things are just little inconveniences that we step past. Sometimes, what seems to be a deep-seated “issue,” is just part of who we are. Sometimes acknowledging and accepting things as they are makes them a lot easier to deal with.It’s terribly easy to get lost in this labyrinth of complicated identity issues and things we’d rather forget, and it’s terribly hard to get out.

Tangle

Unless you can just let go.

Accept that you have occasionally said or done things you wish you hadn’t. Apologize if you feel the need, but then, LET IT GO. If I could go back and apologize to that one lady for being such an ignorant child, I would. However, I can’t, so I just have to do better in the future.

Accept that some things just don’t come naturally to you and that doesn’t make you any less valid as a person. I will never apply for an accounting gig. I’m a writer but not a great speller. So what? Let it go.

Accept and let go.
Accept and let go.
Accept and let go.

Trying to puzzle it out, while you may think you’re being accepting of yourself, is actually a denial of what is. You’re trying to fix something, trying to make yourself different than you are, and wasting a lot of energy on obsessive thought. If you want to improve yourself, focus on your thoughts and actions right now instead of the past. But tracing out the entire history of your bank account is actually a huge waste of time and energy. Cut that out. Let it go. Wipe the slate clean where possible, and move forward.

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Be Present. Be Engaged. Be Dangerous.

Circus Bongo, Holland 2010

In the yoga community, we love to talk about being present. Be present. Be aware. Be in the moment. These are things we say a lot, but what does it mean? I learned the answer in an unexpected way at my old job as a project manager.

Story time!

So, there I was, 25 years old and learning to be a project manager. I was the only female in the company, the youngest employee, the only white person, and the only one with a liberal arts background. It was a highly educational situation, and also quite challenging at times. As a project manager, I needed my coworkers to be on my side, and even though I thought of them as my equals (and frankly as my superiors in some ways), I needed their respect.

Some people were easy to work with and happy to help get the job done. Some other folks, however, let their pride and biases get in the way of a functional working relationship, and it fell on my shoulders to straighten them out.

One guy, Neal, figured out that I was a bit of a pushover, being young and naive and all. Neal was a charming, good looking guy with a booming voice and intimidating presence. He could also look you right in the eye and lie to you with a smile. People like him are dangerous to people like me. Or rather, to people like I used to be. I had a tendency to just shut up when he and my boss were talking, and as long as he and I were on friendly terms, that didn’t cause any problems.

But as the project manager, I was given some authority over Neal — just a little — and he didn’t like it. Rather than cooperate to make a project schedule that worked for everyone, he would disregard the project plan and then tell our boss that I had screwed up, misinformed him, or forgotten some key component. I learned to cover myself by putting everything in writing and CC’ing my boss on every email. That went a long way toward protecting me, but it felt lame, like I was a little kid who had to be watched over by daddy at all times. I wanted to be respected on my own rather, not thought of as a tattle tale!

That’s when I learned how to be present. Powerfully present. That’s when I learned to really take up space in a room, assert myself, and be part of the conversation.

These three (the Trikaya) being complete and fully present as one are its very essence.

I used to sit and wait for my turn to speak. I would space out while listening to other people talk. I deferred all installation-related decisions to the installers on the assumption that they knew better than I did. I did not insert myself into the conversation. But one day my boss called a meeting with Neal and me, and he wanted to hear our project plan. I knew what was going to happen. Neal would shrug unhelpfully, our boss would intervene and come up with a plan of his own, and I would jot it all down and play the little gopher girl, doing things how they said, even though I knew it was an ineffective plan.

This time, I decided not to let it go down that way. This time, when we sat down to talk, the three of us in a little triangle of ugly office chairs, I could practically feel the energy of the conversation weighing heavily between the two of them, and nothing on my side of the room. I added my energy to the conversation. I opened my eyes a little wider, sat forward in my chair, leaned into the space between us and was a participant rather than a spectator. My boss asked the question: What’s your plan?

Without hesitation, I jumped in an presented my suggestions. I had a basic timeline, I needed some details from the installation team, I requested a bill of materials from the engineering team, and I was waiting on a call back from some of our partners. My boss seemed quietly satisfied with my answer.

As for Neal? He didn’t have much to say. He objected briefly to the timeline I put forward, but our boss said simply, “Why not? Of course you can do it.” When he couldn’t come up with a good enough excuse, we went with my plan.

The project went beautifully, if I may say so myself. And that’s how the rest of my projects went. I collaborated with people from our various partner companies and internal teams. I never had to force anyone to do things my way, and I never made all the decisions, nor did I want to. But I never got steam rolled again. Once I refused to be his scapegoat, Neal was unable to keep fooling everyone else.

That meeting was when I stopped being an office girl and started being a stellar project manager. Later, my boss would say, “I don’t know what changed, but you really turned around over the past year.” I think he thought I suddenly found meaning in the work and discovered some previously unknown loyalty to the company. Nah, I just got tired of being pushed around and feeling sorry for myself.

That day, I learned that being present isn’t just a matter of sitting and listening. Being present is about being fully engaged in your life. For me, being present meant being heard and taking part in decisions rather than letting others steer my ship. Being present turned the tables on people like Neal and made me the dangerous one, and I liked it.

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