A successful lawyer I worked for many years ago was trying to comfort me one day. I was bemoaning some now-forgotten personal crisis and cried that I was tired of making so many mistakes all the time. Shouldn’t I have learned from them all by now?
“Donna,” he began in a soothing tone, “you’re going to make the same mistakes over and over again for the rest of your life.”
I was not consoled.
On the contrary, I was aghast. How could he — a wise, sympathetic man — foretell such an awful thing?
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Fast forward 25 years, and I get it. In fact, I find it comforting.
Every year, as December draws to a close, I reflect on the past year. New Year’s Eve is actually my favorite holiday, because it’s the time when I get to look back on all of my accomplishments in the past year and look ahead with wonder and hope at what the new year might bring.
One of my favorite purchases that I make around this time is a monthly calendar. I flip through it quickly, jotting down appointments and events that I already have planned.
Then I go back through each month more slowly, poring over the empty squares of each day, wondering what delightful secrets might be hiding there.
Of course, I know there will be mistakes, too; and I can’t help but recall some of the more embarrassing ones from the previous year. But I’ve noticed something interesting.
Most of my mistakes tend to fall into one or two general categories, and as that lawyer predicted, I have made them over and over again. But every year, I focus on them less, and often I find myself laughing over them. “Oh, honey,” I’ll say to myself, “what were you thinking?” Then I’ll have a good laugh and vow never to make that mistake again (knowing full well that I will).
And that’s OK. Because even though the mistakes continue, they seem to be fewer in number. Occasionally, I even manage to avoid one altogether. And sometimes, I’m pretty sure I was terribly bothered by some mistake I’d made during the year, but I can’t remember what it was.
Unfortunately, some of my mistakes are unforgettable, and they have cost me dearly. As a result, I will never be as successful as dear the lawyer — at least not in the traditional sense of the word. But I prefer the words of Epictetus, one of the great Stoic philosophers, who asked us to count success, not by the amount of money or fame we have, but rather by the number of times we have gotten up after falling down.
So, after I’m done trying not to remember all the times I messed up during the past year, I remember my successes. Projects undertaken that I hadn’t even dreamed about doing at the beginning of the year, new friendships forged, patience exhibited (my most longed-for trait), a successful party thrown and flickers of pure joy.
So, Happy New Year. Far be it from me to suggest that you are going to make the same mistakes this new year, but if you happen to find yourself falling down that path, look for me. I could probably use a hand getting back up.
Donna Guardino of Lexington is a teacher and former community columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.