All mistakes offer learnings. Beyond that, they serve no purpose.
Do I ever feel guilty? I was asked this question by someone recently.
Of course, I do. I feel guilty for having made such costly mistakes that led me and my family to this bankruptcy, I feel guilty for failing my parents and my children, and Vaani, and I do feel guilty for our inability to repay the 179 people to whom we owe money (Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal ). I sure feel the guilt. For the longest time, until some years ago, I used to carry the guilt. But upon deep reflection, I have set down that burden. My awareness has helped me understand the futility of feeling guilty.
Sometimes we make mistakes in Life that we do realize later were avoidable. In fact, in retrospect, when realization dawns, every mistake seems avoidable. Realization, always, brings guilt in its wake. This is when we must be aware and drop the guilt. We often confuse feeling guilty with a sense of feeling responsible. The truth however is that feeling guilty for long periods of time can be depressing and can cripple us – preventing progress. On the other hand, feeling responsible about or for something brings with it a sense of accountability and helps us take the necessary action to remedy the situation.
But some situations may not be immediately remediable. A friend writes in saying he made a judgment error in quitting his last job. Now, even while he’s struggling without a job for over six months, he’s drowning in a sea of guilt. Without an income and a family to support, he has become depressive and is very scared of the future. He keeps repeating that he should not have quit his last job in a huff. This is what guilt can do to you. It will keep you chained to the past. Also your ego, which will fuel that feeling that you must atone for your sins, will blind you. This way you will miss the completely magnificent present. A situation like the one my friend is facing is unpredictable – it may sort itself out with him getting a job soon or his career can stagnate this way for a long, long time. Holding on to guilt till a situation gets better is wasting a crucial opportunity to live Life fully. Interestingly, feeling guilty about a situation cannot remedy it. Only concrete, constructive action can.
When you feel guilty about something you have done, look at the situation deeply. Ask yourself could you have avoided doing what you did or could you have done something different. Once you realize that you could have avoided doing what you did, first forgive yourself for having done that. Resolve that you will not repeat this mistake again. Then reach out and apologize to all people connected with or affected by your action. Whether they forgive you or not is immaterial – you apologize. If you can’t face them, send them a text message or an email or a note. Beyond this, don’t retain your guilt. Holding on to your guilt pins you down. Drop your guilt instead and move on. Know that everyone makes mistakes. And that mistakes are experiences from which you can learn. As long as you have learnt from it, the mistake you have made, no matter what it was, has served its purpose in your Life.
Life is too short and beautiful to be brooding over and feeling guilty. Instead drop your guilt, come alive, take charge and make every effort to change the situation. No matter how long it takes to turn things around, remember, you have no choice but to be at it. And, without doubt, you can be better at the task of repairing your Life, in any context, when you are free from guilt.
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