Making mistakes

I made a huge mistake just now in applying for a job.

A huge mistake.

And when it was revealed to me, I was floored. I was devastated. And when I pleaded for forgiveness, a superior said, “We all make mistakes.”

I went on a run and didn’t do interval. I ran the whole way there, and the whole way back. Adrenaline. Blood. Upset.

But I am not upset about it. I could get down on myself and flood my mind with thoughts of never getting a job, constantly making mistakes, never being perfect, never being right. I have always criticized myself. I have always blamed myself. I apologize too much because I want everything to be right. For everyone to be happy. And mainly for everyone to know how much I care, no matter how many stupid mistakes I made.

Now, I am not feeling sorry for myself. I made a mistake and I will admit it. It was a stupid mistake, too, a face-palm mistake.

But I won’t let myself dive to the depths of my mind about it. I’ve done that before, and I won’t do it again.

(Of course, I won’t make that mistake again. For. Real.)

And then I started thinking about how I used to be riddled with self-doubt and blame. Get this story right. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t mess up. Don’t misquote. Write it and make it perfect. 

It was exhausting. And maybe it was part of my environment, and the people around me pressuring me to be perfect. (And I think there’s a difference here: it’s good for people to pressure each other to be the best they can be, but pressuring for perfection edges on dangerous.)

But I know that I did it to myself, mainly. And in this case, I’ve made it to a point where I can say, yeah, I made a mistake. And it sucks. It’s a big slice of humble pie shoved down my throat with seven splashes of stupidity to wash it down with.

And I went out and went on a run and told myself, Okay. That happened and it sucked but you don’t suck. You’ll move on. No worries.

No worries.

I told a friend the other day that for the last year, I’ve said, “No worries,” more than I ever had in my life. I’ve told it to people who wronged me, and people who apologized for silly things like not doing their dishes. People have told it to me even when I felt I didn’t deserve it. I forgive people for being flaky and they forgive me. You don’t do your dishes. You slack on your work. You say something you don’t mean. If we constantly held each other accountable for every action, we would be exhausted from pleasing each other. It’s been a hard and long lesson, but I think the idea of forgiveness has finally imprinted in me. Yeah, shit happens, but it’s not a big deal. And when it is, you address it, and then it’s not a big deal.

I understand how that sounds like I’m a major appeaser and conflict-avoider and of course that’s true.

But it’s been relieving for the past year to be around people who push through issues and say, “No worries,” even if they were upset. Because at the end of the day, we forgive each other and love each other and keep going because it’s efficient and smart and the ultimate way to show someone you care is when you say, “I love you” even when they make fools of themselves (or so they think).

And then I started thinking about journalism, and writing, and how we beat ourselves up about a mistake we make. We are exhausted from holding ourselves and each other to such high expectations. And it’s understandable. We want to be perfect, and to make the best story, and I really do think we want the best from each other. But it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being as perfect as we can be.

It’s so unhealthy to constantly reach for this goal. We’re told to reach for the stars, but sometimes I feel like we’re reaching for a star that is moving away from us, not towards us. We need to find the right star to reach for. We’re a team, a camaraderie. And we throw each other under the bus and judge outlets when they make a mistake and say, “Why did you do that?”

Why did they do that? Because they made a stupid mistake.

And we hold ourselves up to this high standard, and that’s wonderful. But we talk about how our sources are nuanced and complex but we should realize that we ourselves are nuanced and complex and we make mistakes and we’re not perfect and not always objective.

And for the first time in a while (sorry Hannah for the as-of-late bitterness toward social networking), I realized the benefit of something like social media. We go on Twitter or Facebook or WordPress and say something and maybe we’ll regret and maybe there’s an error in it, but the fact that we felt so compelled to say something — whether it’s about something you hated that someone said in class or if it’s a news source excited about some tip they got — is beautiful.

I am one of the people who always jumps to the side of “Well, maybe we should hold off a second and wait until we know all the details.” But maybe it’s important for me to realize, and for us all to realize, how comfortable and forgiving the internet is — or can be. We chastise other people for making mistakes, and ask what went wrong. But instead, maybe we should say, “How do we as a profession fix this?” or “Who was really excited about this and tweeted about it?” or “How have we all made mistakes like this before?” Instead of pitting everyone against each other, maybe we can make mistakes on Twitter

(Clarification: cases like Jayson Blair do not apply. Intentional, malicious mistakes are not mistakes. They are the journalistic equivalent to felony. Disregard these extreme cases.)

Maybe we should learn how to forgive more quickly and yes, constructively criticize and ask what went wrong, but moreover, self-reflect and see what it is within all of us that makes us push “send” or “post.”

In my part-time jobs, I’ve made stupid mistakes, and I have felt awful. But you move on. Your colleagues around you support you and you don’t make those  mistakes again but course at some point you’ll make another one. But that’s okay.

There’s a difference between someone who makes a mistake out of negligence or laziness (as in this thing that happened to me, so I’m not innocent) and someone who simply makes a mistake. We need to take mistakes not as compromises of character or question of validity. Of course journalists need to be held to a high standard, and their activity on social media needs to be held to a similar standard. But, for me, working with the constant fear of making a mistake would be so detrimental to my work. I just can’t think like that.

So maybe social media is a medium of experimentation, and I can really, really appreciate that. We can post things and make mistakes but it’s not a big deal. You fix your tweet and you call yourself out (or someone else does). As long as you’re transparent about it (which is kind of inevitable on social media), you have the opportunity to be in a community that says, “Okay. That happened. It shouldn’t again. But we all make mistakes, and we can collectively move forward.”

We shouldn’t use social media out of fear of making a mistake so that we constantly please the Lord Master Internet People. I think there’s something inherently forgiving about the internet and social media, and that is crucial. It’s fleeting and sometimes fretful, but forgiving.

And instead of using social media as a forum of criticism and judgment, we can look at it as a constantly changing animal that shows us more about ourselves, the mistakes we make, and how we can move forward together.

And have no worries.


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