Recently, due to a short work week and long holiday weekend I missed two client calls on the same day. It was only when my supervisor contacted me on email the next day that I realised my error. I was devastated I had let these two people down, let the service down and the voice in my head began “How could you be so stupid to have forgotten?” “How could you have confused the days?” The nasty gremlin voice in my head got louder.
Luckily, I had the presence of mind to write back to my supervisor immediately, I owned the mistake, I said I was sorry, and I said I felt awful about it. That was the first step in easing some of the anxiety I was feeling and turning down the volume in my head. Despite knowing these things happen, making mistakes are still a difficult pill to swallow. There is an unspoken expectation in the world that we must always be performing at an optimal level and mistakes tend to be blame missiles seeking a culprit and usually involve shaming.
The beautiful thing is what happened next, how easy it is to offer an empathic message of repair to someone and what it can mean. My supervisor responded to me with an email that completely changed my internal sense of “being in trouble” A psychotherapist herself and a person with a capacity for great empathy wrote “please know there is no expectation from us that you should be infallible – confusion is a part of life and often a symptom of overwhelm (well for me it is anyway!).” The physical relief and release that this gave me is difficult to put into words. I felt seen, heard and understood and in turn was able to quiet the punishing voice in my head and right size my human error.
It made me think about our capacity as human beings to be less judgemental with each other and more compassionate. When we offer a compassionate response to another’s shortcomings or mistakes, are we not acknowledging our own fallibility and frailty? And when we sit in stern judgement, sometimes as thoughts in our heads (driving, online, in the supermarket) is it perhaps coming from the place where we often judge ourselves? I began to think about the idea of how I could pass on this compassionate act towards me, to someone else, even a stranger perhaps.
The next time I was out on the road and had a chance to let someone into a traffic queue or slow down for a pedestrian, I did it, knowing that these small acts of human kindness add up slowly and if nothing else, help me to be compassionate with my own human vulnerability and imperfections. It helps me to understand that striving for imagined perfection is an illusion that sets me up for huge disappointment and can open the door for punishing thoughts. The drive to always get it right shuts out the opportunity to get it wrong, even to get it very wrong and through that experience connect to all that makes me and everyone else, perfectly, humanly imperfect.