How To Make ‘Happy Mistakes’
As a child, I loved watching a certain kids’ TV show about art. It was presented by a softly-spoken, good-natured old guy who would demonstrate how to use watercolours or pastels, or how to draw in proportion. In one episode, the presenter was trying to draw a landscape and accidentally smudged the picture. I’ll never forget what he said.
“Let’s turn this into a ‘happy’ mistake.”
He then proceeded to smudge the rest of the drawing and turned it into a lovely smudgy sunset. It may have been different from what he set out to do, but it was beautiful all the same. What a wise response.
Mistakes, Mistakes and More Mistakes
I have made many mistakes in my life. Using alcohol to self-medicate an anxiety disorder was not one of my brighter ideas and led me down the road of addiction, homelessness, and general alienation from everything that is good in life (including most of my pancreas).
When I was trying to beat my addiction, I often wound up in a pit of guilt and self-reproach ‒ I spent any time sober feeling just awful about the horrible things I had done when I was drinking and the pain that I had caused to other people and myself. Guess where that led me? Back to the bottle to self-medicate all the painful feelings of regret and self-hatred.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
Berating yourself for your mistakes is counter-productive and generally leads you to make more, not less. It is far better to accept that you are a human being. And guess what that particular species does on a regular basis? We make mistakes. I do. You do. We all do. It’s part of life. It’s sometimes only by doing things ‘the wrong way’ that we discover a more productive and beneficial way of doing things. Learning to walk is a great example of this!
Nowadays, I have a much different attitude to my past ‘mistakes’. I don’t label them as mistakes anymore. I look at them as experiences that I can learn from. I am not ashamed of them. I see them as things that have made me uniquely ‘me’ (scars and all) and that have given me the opportunity to be a better person.
The Positive Side of ‘Mistakes’
In some ways it’s a good job I did turn into an alcoholic. There have been many benefits to my recovery process, which I never would have had if my life had gone a different way. I have become a strong, tolerant, empathetic person. I have made some amazing friends and found ways of living that make me more content than any substance ever could.
And I discovered what I consider to be my life’s purpose, helping other people. I have turned my experience into something that can help other human beings. I have written books about addiction and how to recover, and I hope that these will be my legacy for many years to come. In this way, my addiction is now a ‘happy mistake’.
How to Turn Things Around
If you’ve made a ‘mistake’ and are feeling guilty about it, first ask yourself if you would judge a friend that harshly for goofing up. I bet you wouldn’t. Talk to yourself as you would to a good friend. Ask, what can I do to make this better? Then do it. If you need to apologise to anyone else you’ve affected, do so immediately and reassure them of what you are prepared to do to prevent them from getting hurt again.
Then, ask yourself the following questions:
What can I learn from this?
How has this experience benefited me or how could it help other people?
How will this experience make me a better person?
How can I use this as a pivot for making things even better than they were before?
If you feel any guilt slipping back in, just remind yourself that you’re only a human being having a learning experience. And you can make a beautiful sunset out of your smudgy blot if you have a wise attitude.