We all have a back catalogue of things we regret doing or saying. And unfortunately, it’s all-too-available for us to use against ourselves when Life uses our self confidence as a piñata.
When we’re already low, our monkey minds go to town…blowing up minor missteps into irrefutable proof that we are complete idiots:
The time you choked during your presentation and forgot the name of your own company.
That stellar moment when you asked your co-worker when she was due. And she wasn’t pregnant.
The night where you had one (or three) too many at cousin Barb’s wedding and assaulted the dance floor with gyrations that looked like MC Hammer on peyote buttons.
“All right. I can forgive myself for stammering through a presentation or dancing like a jackass. But what about the really big stuff? Opportunities I lost out on. Things I didn’t step up for. I would be soooo much further along if I had (fill in the blank with regret du jour).”
Let me tell you a story…
When I was in my early 20s, my best friend’s stepfather (Gale) turned his experience as a criminal court judge into a screenplay that was made into a TV movie. As a newbie taking my first screenwriting class in college, I remember going to the film’s screening with (literal) stars in my eyes. Oh my God…there are famous people here!
I was totally in awe of the fact that his debut script had been produced, seemingly overnight. He had not one but TWO agents. He was being courted to write for several television shows, including the then wildly popular L.A. Law.
I wanted his life.
Being the cool guy that he was, Gale offered to read a few of the screenplays and TV scripts I was working on in class. He was impressed (or perhaps just kind) enough to suggest that his agents take a look at them. After I got up off the floor and the paramedics left, I gratefully accepted his offer.
A few weeks passed, and Gale got back to me with the agents’ input. No surprise, they had some notes on what could be improved, what wasn’t quite in line with industry standards, etc.
But then Gale said something I’ll never forget.
“They said you could make a living at this.”
So, what do you think I did? Jump up and down in elation that a couple of Hollywood big shots said I had the chops to be a professional screenwriter? Start writing movies and teleplays like a woman possessed?
I stopped writing for an entire year. And only sporadically after that for the next several years.
I could look back at that (and have, trust me) as an abysmal failure. Why did I run away, cowering from encouragement that most twenty-somethings (or any-somethings) would die to receive?
I could tell you that I focused on the agents’ critiques more than their kudos and that’s what sent me scurrying.
But that would only be a half-truth.
The reality was, I was simply not ready to put myself out there in the world. The initial excitement I felt about possibly being “discovered” quickly morphed into abject terror. And I hid.
Gutless? Stupid? Wasteful? Yes, yes, and yes.
But it was where I was at the time. I knew somewhere inside of me that I didn’t have the rhino-thick skin I needed to succeed as a scribe in Hollywood (or anywhere, for that matter). I didn’t have the resolve to withstand criticism. And I lacked the emotional maturity to realize that while praise is awesome, it can’t be what motivates you to create.
I kept the self-condemnation going off and on throughout my 30s. But once I started skidding into the Big 4-0, I realized that it was time to not only forgive the past but truly bless it.
Put the lost opportunities in perspective once and for all.
Maya Angelou said it beautifully:
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
I didn’t know what to do then. But I do now.
And I’m getting on with it. Writing. Sharing. Encouraging. Running my own race. And not giving a sh*t if I trip on my shoelaces while doing it.
It’s a good place to be. Finally.