How To Get Over Your Mistakes

Want to know how to get over your mistakes? It takes equal parts honesty and self-awareness, but it's totally possible. Click through and read more. 
Dear Sarah,

So I was just wondering, how do you deal when you make a mistake, or do something you regret? Does this ever happen to you? I can’t figure out if I’m just making more mistakes lately, or if I’m having a harder time forgiving myself for them?

Before I attempt to answer our friend’s very valid question, please allow me to share some of my most epic mistakes.

1) Putting off getting the brakes on my scooter fixed – resulting in an accident, a whole lotta road rash and four stitches in my chin.
2) Allowing a five year relationship to go on for about two years too long.
3) Not proofing $1,300 worth of product before I sent it to the printer.
4) Not tying down a mattress I was hauling in the back of a pickup (it blew out of the back in the middle of the Lake Street bridge. During rush hour.)
5) Frequently wearing red fleece overalls in high school. Yes.
I would like to say that I’ve learned from these mistakes, but I’ve got drop crotch print pants in my online shopping cart as I type this, so maybe I’ve yet to grasp the meaning behind that last one.
I am hardly the person who doesn’t make mistakes. However! I do my best not to get hung up on them. Here are a few things that work for me.

How to get over your mistakes in five not-particularly-easy steps 

Step 1: Be honest about what actually caused these mistakes

I didn’t get my brakes fixed because I’m a procrastinator. I didn’t end the relationship because I was afraid to hurt his feelings. I didn’t tie down that mattress because I can be shockingly lazy. I, myself, am the common denominator in all of the above screw-ups. Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it?
However! There is something oddly comforting about acknowledging that most of these mistakes? With a bit of effort and emotional maturity, I could have avoided them. These things were not beyond my control, they were not an act of god, they were my own damn doing.

And thus? It is totally within my power to avoid them in the future.

If you're the source of hardships in your life, you're also the source of the solutions. Share on X

Step 2: Think about how you can prevent this from happening again

There will always be unexpected weather. You can’t really control how your boyfriend reacts to your concerns or how other people view the sartorial merits of red fleece overalls. But you can control yourself. And as we just discussed, you might be the common denominator in a lot of those mistakes.
You can prevent typos by:
Double proofreading
Asking a friend to proofread
Not writing after you’ve had three lattes (not that I would know anything about that)
You can prevent regrettable romantic scenarios by:
Knowing and liking yourself before you start dating someone
Figuring out what you’re looking for
Not dating people who don’t fit what you’re looking for
Learning how to fight fair
If you’re really, painfully honest with yourself you probably know how to prevent these slip-ups from happening. You just need to commit to putting those important, tough decisions into play.

Step 3: View the results of your mistakes from an objective standpoint

Of course, we’ve all made mistakes and some of them have had major consequences (I’m looking at you scooter-related chin scar)
But by and large? If you are reading this blog, that means you have access to the internet and a computer. You’re not dead, you have the physical capacity to use a computer and you have access to computers and the internet. You’re already better off that 95% of the world’s inhabitants.
There are, of course, mistakes that are very hard to recover from. But you know what? I bet we all know people who have pulled themselves out of abusive relationships, crippling debt, serious health issues, unwise investments, bad mortgages, education programs they hated.
And they all lived to tell about it and make better decisions the second time around.

As morbid as it sounds, the gig’s not up till you’re in the ground. One mistakes does not need to beget another. You don't need to be perfect, you just need to be slightly smarter than last time. Share on X

Step 4: Think about how you can correct your mistakes

How can you make up for your screw ups? I can’t go back in time and convince my 27-year-old self that she should take her scooter to a mechanic.
But if I run into that ex-boyfriend and the time’s right I could say “I’m sorry about how things ended between us. I should have had the guts to be honest with you and be more open about my feelings. You deserved better than that.”
Sometimes that door is closed and your best bet is to be a better person from here on out. But if an apology, a re-do, or even a cheque could make things right (and make you feel better) make it happen.

Step 5: Realize that regret is deeply, deeply useless

Now, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that maybe, if you could do it again, you wouldn’t incur $75,000 worth of debt for an M.A. in Underwater Basket Weaving. But there’s a difference between shrugging and saying “Ah, well. Ya live, ya learn.” and tormenting yourself every time you make a loan payment.

Regretting your life’s choices serves no one. It’s completely pointless and, as all those Pinterest images wisely state “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”And if you’re still hung up on past mistakes? Use the ol’ grand canyon trick.

Picture that the Grand Canyon is your life–your past, present and future. Start envisioning the various parts of your life within the canyon: Over there is the day you were born, your third-grade choir performance, your job as a babysitter. Picture your present: There’s your apartment, your friends, your mom, the book you’re reading right now. Picture your future: There’s your next vacation, the love of your life, your future children, the Top Chef finale. 🙂

Picture the enormous Grand Canyon and drop your worry into it. Whatever you’re worrying about–your cranky boss, your dating life, a salty comment from a friend–will be barely visible. “See how tiny it looks?” she says. Suddenly your problem will seem much, much smaller in comparison to the grand course of your huge, rich, long life.

Do you get hung up on past mistakes? If you’ve gotten past them – how’d you do that? Tell us in the comments so we can learn from you!

P.S. How to deal when people disappoint you + You’re probably not the exception to the rule (and that’s totally okay) 

photo by Scott Webb // cc

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  1. Emily

    This is such a great article! I will definitely put these to use. I really like the point about the freedom that comes with recognizing the mistake was because of you.

    On bad days where things have really just not gone my way and I feel like I'm doing everything wrong, I also sometimes tell myself 'You've just had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," just like the children's book. It's so corny, but it helps me put things into perspective and remember that tomorrow starts a new day.

  2. Mika P.

    I really loved this post and how you tied each point to a specific example that you brought up, all of which are very personal and very brave of you to let us in like that! I think it really helps us readers connect with you (: Thanks for the tips and sharing, we love reading your posts!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks, Mika! So glad you enjoyed it!

  3. The Divine Miss Em

    I was in an abusive relationship when I was 19. He was my first real boyfriend after high school and I was his first real girlfriend. He bullied me into doing things I didn't want to do, paraded me around like arm candy, and went so far as to rape me. I was too afraid to end it because all my friends were dating his friends and I was afraid of losing my social group. He was afraid he would go back to being the other guys' cannon fodder.

    I beat myself up for my choices for nearly a decade. I didn't truly forgive myself until I admitted my mistakes in the relationship. I knew it was broken well before he ended it. (Yes, he ended it). I forgave myself for both of us lacking the emotional maturity to back out of something that just wasn't working.

    He lives in another state, so it's unlikely I'll ever see him again. If I did, I would just nod and keep walking.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Em, I'm so sorry you went through that. But I'm so, SO glad you've forgiven yourself and moved on <3

  4. Traci

    Ha, did you really wear red fleece overalls in your younger years? Picture, please! Sounds comfy, though!

    When I think of mistakes, I think of one of my favorite quotes on the matter that I've illustrated: Show me a person who has never made a mistake and I'll show you somebody who has never achieved much. Joan Collins. The most important thing is to learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, we all have those that we'd like to erase from our own memories completely!

  5. Raquel

    I think my biggest mistake was not trying hard enough at school and university, and not working to discover what was 'out there' for me.

    I always got great marks, but unfortunately I never really had to work hard for them, meaning I never got used to hard work, or really experienced the satisfaction that comes with it. As the first in my family to go to university, I also never really knew what sort of careers were out there for me — I did not even know that studying things like 'public policy' was possible! I didn't find out until I was actually at university, and then I decided to stick with my easy course of study rather than choosing a new challenge.

    These days I'm working hard in a field unrelated to my degree (I actually turned my hobby into my job, which is awesome), and I'm learning about hard work.

    How do I forgive myself? I remind myself that I'm 23, I'm not exactly over-the-hill yet, so the fact that I'm learning now is fantastic! Go me! I'm happy that I've found the wisdom to realise my past mistakes, and overcome them through commitment and determination.

  6. Jacqueline Wolven

    I think the biggest mistakes I have made are when I refuse/forget to be kind to others, which sounds trite, but I can cringe each time I remember those moments. Ooof… so glad that the brake mistake wasn't worse. Yikes!

  7. Lindsay is Broke

    "2) Allowing a five year relationship to go on for about two years too long."

    You and me both, sister! Amazing how clear it is in hindsight. 😐

  8. rachelannpierce

    This is going to sound oddly specific, but the mistake my mind is jumping to right now it not making a phone call. This time last year I was waiting to hear back about some academic paperwork that needed to go through before I could rent an apartment, buy a car, and start living my life where I wanted to live it. By the time I made the phone call I had already moved back to live with my parents. Had I called even a week earlier I would have been able to start living the life I wanted right away instead of being home for two months.

    On the bright side I was home for Mother's Day, my sister's birthday, and Father's Day that year for the first time a few years, and potentially the last time ever.

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