“So, basically, I blew it.”
Twenty minutes before, I’d walked into my counselor’s office with a light step and confidence. But after replaying the events of the prior weekend and talking through the words said and choices made, I knew I’d failed. Again.
My good mood escaped like air out of a balloon. How had I let that happen? I’d tried so hard to get it right. But here I was, once again, on the back side of an altercation, discovering I hadn’t handled it as well as I had thought I had. Nothing traumatic or irreparable. Still, I knew I had, in fact, blown it — in spite of my efforts to do otherwise.
Defeat pushed me deeper into the leather of her sofa. At the same time, another feeling niggled its way to the front, coloring my neck and face.
Embarrassment. I felt embarrassed.
“I can’t believe I blew it again,” I said, shaking my head back and forth in disbelief. When would I finally get this right?
But she didn’t agree with my conclusion.
“You didn’t blow it,” she said matter-of-factly. “You’re learning.”
I don’t think I said anything for a full minute after that. Her words stunned even more than my assumed failure.
Excuse me? I wanted to say. Did you not hear my story?
But she’d heard. Now she wanted me to hear — not my words, but hers. The ones in which she exchanged my words for better ones.
I’ve thought of her words countless times since that day, while coaching individuals and consulting with organizations. I’ve shared them with members of my team and offered them as a soft gift to a young woman I mentor. But more than using her words to serve others, I’ve used them to serve myself and my own heart.
I’ve long been merciless with my self-flagellation. I remember moments in childhood when I beat myself up for any and every infraction. I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you failed — punish yourself enough and you’re not likely to repeat the same mistake.
But shame and self-loathing aren’t good companions. And, as it turns out, it doesn’t do much to change human behavior. Instead of inspiring change, self-recrimination fuels shame. And shame is a poor teacher.
With her two words, my counselor changed my position after my inevitable mistakes. Rather than positioning myself at the other end of a whip, I prop myself in the chair at the front of the classroom.
Paul said it this way:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
In Christ, I am not condemned. Instead, through the power of His presence in me, I am slowly being transformed into His likeness, one day and moment at a time. That means I am a student, not a screw-up. And this shift — as small as it appears — changes everything about my human experience. It changes how I see me, how I process my many mistakes and failures. It helps me turn shame into confession, failure into growth. And, like a buy-one-get-one-free deal, it also changes how I perceive other mistake-laden, imperfect humans just like me.
In other words, I’m a student, not a screw-up. And so are you.
We’re all learning, doing our best to be our best, even when some days all we offer is our worst.
In fact, we’re learning together — if, of course, we can lay aside our whips long enough to let compassion and empathy connect us.
What about you, friend? What is your typical self-talk when you realize you made a mistake? Whether you say it out loud or not, there is a narrative you follow. And that narrative will either lead you to a prison or a classroom.
The good news? You get to choose. So choose well.Leave a Comment
Ruth Mills says
Wow did I need this this morning! Thank you for sharing! Instead of telling myself I’m the problem as I search for a solution I will choose to be a student of how best to serve/love another by seeking a compromise. In Christ I am not condemned so I need not rehearse the lies that I am.
I love this so much! Thank you for sharing a far more kind and helpful perspective, on recognizing messups and moving forward in a healthier way.
Wow! Thanks for your message. Such wise words of encouragement and self love. Unfortunately my upbringing did not encourage learning, instead I was shamed. I’m in my 70’s and with therapy I’m much better. Shaming children is never helpful, it can follow them through life. You’re message is powerful!
I love it. At 65 I’m learning each day seems. Funny is somedays I’m learning from a 2 or 4 year grandchild. Reminding myself of the importance of practice and learning …
Donna Meredith Dixon says
Wonderful encouragement… an-so-timely and welcomed reframe!
But when do you finally “get it”? I’ve been “learning” the same things for over 20 years, when does it finally “click”? It’s frustrating.
I’m learning…powerful words of grace. Thank you.
Henry Lee says
It is amazing timing of your today message..for myself to give my daughter…Joy…who had her voice down over the phone call to my wife…she herself saying she had made mistakes to give presentation of her work via Zoom meeting…she thought she had not find correct wording…muttering…she must think she failed..
She had moved last Friday and could not catch up many things like rearranged stuffs yet attended the small group gathering to share after the Sunday worship via on line…she has found many areas to report to the apartment management office…and so on..
You are absolutely right I have to deliver your message we are student and still learning…not a screw-up…
These could just be the most helpful & transformative words I could have read at this moment. Really, really struggling to forgive myself over some things. God knows exactly what we need, when we need it! Thank you so much!
Michele, this is so lovely. I keep mistakenly thinking I’m older now, so I should be immune to making so many mistakes. Not so. “I’m learning” every single day! Here’s to many more days of “learning”!
I am newly widowed and as I read your story I could reflect on the many failures I have had finding my new normal. Thank you for reminding me that schools not out and I am still learning!
Cathy Fort Leyland says
This perspective – no, this Truth is so helpful. I needed this adjustment to my lens as I’ve been writing my own reflection on SHAME.
Joy Groblebe says
I needed this so much…thank you!
Becky Keife says
Oh, Michele. This is another one of your posts that I know I’ll want to revisit again and again. I’m often tempted to lock myself in that prison too (and condemn others there as well.) Here’s to all being eager and humble students in the classroom of life.
Nancy Ruegg says
Isn’t it amazing how a tiny shift to two tiny words can make a world of difference? Thank you, Michele, for reminding us we’re all on the learning curve toward kingdom living. Even God Himself doesn’t expect perfection!
Patricia Raybon says
Wow, I loved this so much, Michele. With your wise insight, I can lay down that shame whip for good. Sending my warmest thanks! Much love, Patricia
Patricia Raybon says
So well said, Nancy. Thank you!
Sandra P Duhart says
I have learned the hard way to be kind to myself. To move forward with out looking back continuously at the past decisions. Learning to love myself as God loves me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, the apple of God’s eye. If God Almighty can love me despite me and my human faults, etc. then I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. God loves you and waits for you to discover this love that No Other can or will ever offer you. Come to the Father, He waits with open arms! God Almighty, ABBA Father is So Majestically BEAUTIFUL Like no other I have known. Be blessed!
Beth Williams says
Thank you for this wisdom. I, like you, condemn myself. “Dumb, stupid, not good enough, don’t even try, ugly” are some of the words I hear. Now I will consistently tell myself & others that we are students on this journey of life. God doesn’t condemn me then why should I punish myself or others? It has taken time, but I have learned to see myself as Jesus sees me beautifully made Child of God made in the image of Almighty God. Going to tell the whole world that we are definitely not SCREW UPS but STUDENTS learning to do life down here on broken Earth!
Robin Dance says
“Rather than positioning myself at the other end of a whip, I prop myself in the chair at the front of the classroom.”
As one who is uncompromisingly hard on myself, this is an idea and visual that will serve me well. I hope to be a student for life :).