Be willing to face your new reality when you end up causing shit to happen.
The lead picture across all media today led me to reflect upon a deep, spiritual, perspective and revisit a Life lesson. This is an image (like the one below; image copyright with original creator) of former Australian cricket captain Steve Smith breaking down (while admitting to his mistake and owning responsibility for the ball tampering scandal that his team has recently been involved in) while his father Peter Smith stands by him.
I believe, like Peter Lalor writes for The Australian, that Steve has done right by accepting that he messed up, by acknowledging that he is guilty and by facing up to his demons. He will emerge as a stronger human being – and cricketer and leader – from this experience.
I can relate to how Steve is feeling just now.
I too have been torn by guilt, anger, grief and shame over my actions – decisions I took and choices I made – that led to the bankruptcy of my erstwhile Firm and plunged my precious family into abject penury. Despite 10 years having gone past, despite every effort we have made in this time, that’s a state that we are still to climb out of. So, at times the guilt still comes gnawing at me. But, unlike in the past, over time, I have learnt to deal with it. I have discussed it in my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Read more here). I share reflections about it in my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk and I have blogged about it a few times here too.
I have understood from my own experience of making mistakes – and learning from them – that it is important to be honest with yourself. When a choice you make in Life goes awry and the consequences of your actions come to haunt you, don’t run away from that moment, that reality. Turn around instead and face those consequences. Look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and admit to yourself that you are guilty and that you screwed up. In such a situation, you will feel stupid, you will feel guilty, remorseful and angry with yourself – and with the world, with the people and circumstances that caused you to act in a certain way. Forgive yourself and forgive everyone around you. Do not cling on to the guilt or to the shame or the anger. Set them all down. By forgiving yourself you cannot repair what you have done, you can’t undo what is past, what is over. But forgiving yourself helps you unburden and deal with the consequences of your actions and your new reality better. It gives you focus and the courage to pick up the threads of your Life again.
I have clung on to guilt, shame, anger and grief for the longest time and have been held hostage by all of them. I have cried, screamed at myself and have, on several occasions, literally banged my head against the wall. But only when I admitted to my mistakes wholesomely, and forgave myself, did I understand the value in moving on. In this time, Vaani – like Steve’s father Peter stands by him today – has stood by me. Her presence, and trust in me, has given me immense strength and I will remain eternally grateful to her. And although we have a long, long way to go before we fix our bankrupt situation, we see it as our responsibility now and don’t see it as a burden anymore.
Let’s recognize this truth about Life. No one is perfect. Shit happens. And sometimes you make choices that you should not have made. When confronted with a Life situation that you caused but which you find too hot to handle, too heavy to hold, take it one step at a time. You can’t solve the problem overnight. First, face your new reality. Cry if it makes you feel better. But be honest with yourself and own the outcome of your choices and actions. At the same time, set down the guilt and let go of the grief, anger and shame. Believe me, your Steve Smith moment, whenever it comes calling, will not burn you – it will only steel you. It will make you stronger, wiser – and happy.
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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Whenever you feel guilty, examine your guilt, see it clearly, learn from it and set it down.
Recently someone we know wanted clarity on how to deal with guilt. He had blown up all his money trying to set up a business that had just not taken off. Over 11 years had passed by and there were still no signs of the business paying any dividends. He was neck-deep in debt. And he felt he had neglected the needs of his wife and children for far too long. His daughter had, in this time, graduated and taken up a job. And his son too was funding his higher education by doing part-time jobs. “I feel wretched. I have been so consumed by my own goals that I have been selfish. Worse, none of my family members is complaining. They continue to be supportive. That makes me miserable and feel more guilty,” lamented the man. “Is there a way to avoid feeling guilty,” he asked.
You can’t really avoid feeling guilty. But you can certainly avoid holding on to your guilt.
Guilt is an emotion, a natural response, that will arise in several contexts in Life. You make a mistake and wake up in realization. Or someone points out your mistake and you feel they are right. Or in hindsight, you feel you should not have done what you did. So, in all such situations, and others, you will feel guilty. You can’t escape that feeling. But you must also understand that guilt is a debilitating emotion – it will pin you down and hold you hostage. So, when you feel guilty, go to its root cause. If you agree that you have made a mistake, forgive yourself. Remember that in Life sometimes sh*t does happen and sometimes you end up making that sh*t happen! So, please, please forgive yourself! And seek forgiveness from the person who you have hurt or let down. Then set down your guilt.
Carrying your guilt around is like holding on to a glass of water with your arm outstretched. The longer you hold the glass this way, the more you will suffer. Instead set it down and learn to work around it. Don’t let your guilt weigh you down. Move on! But let your guilt be visible to you. Don’t ever try to tuck it away. As long as it is visible, you will not repeat the same mistake again. And as long as you don’t pick up your guilt, you will not suffer from it!