Extend Yourself Some Grace

Posted on June 21, 2013


“You’re only human; you’re allowed to make your share of mistakes.”  Billy Joel

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes, it rains.”  Nook LaLoosh

My last post, “Internal Versus External Responsibility,” asserted that we each have a certain bent when assigning the credit for good outcomes or the blame for bad outcomes.  We are somewhere on a continuum between always looking to ourselves as the cause for what happens to us and always looking to people and circumstances outside of ourselves.  My basic point was that (as with many other attributes) good health and life satisfaction is between the two extremes.  It is important to take an active role in the direction of one’s life.  At the same time, you can’t control everything and unlike Monopoly, not everyone starts in an even position.  In this and the following post, I want to address the extreme positions.  This post is primarily directed to those of us whose tendency it is to take on more responsibility for outcomes than is helpful to us.

First, perfectionism is a cruel master.  Human beings are not perfect.  Doing your best is a good thing.  Striving for perfection is bound to lead to disappointment and perhaps self-recrimination.  If we actually manage to achieve the high aspirations we set for ourselves, there is a risk of becoming judgmental of others.  Eventually, we will have to cope with our own inability to be perfect.  It is better for your own mental health to cut yourself some slack and better for your relationships to extend that grace to others as well.

Second, the worst you’ve done does not define you.  Every one of us has things we have done that we regret and things we failed to do that we wish we had.  Repentance is really healthy.  This is where we regret what we have done because of what it has done to others and our relationships.  It may also be appropriate to regret the consequences.  Shame, on the other hand, may be natural, but is not a healthy response.  It gets in the way of relationship.  If you keep making the same mistakes, for your own sake and the sake of those you love, you might want to take a good look at your part in how you keep ending up in the same place.[1]  Again, this is about learning, growing, and creating a more satisfying life, not about striving for perfection.

Third, some things truly are beyond your control.  Can you achieve whatever you want in life?  Well, yes and no.  Could you become president? Feasibly.  During my lifetime (I was born near the end of the Eisenhower administration), there have only been 11 people who have held the job.  Most people who aspire to it will not achieve it.  There is nothing wrong with aspiring to greatness, but don’t hang your happiness and your self-worth on attaining it.  On a more mundane level, there are things in our daily lives we can control and some things that we can’t.  You can plan enough time in your schedule to get between commitments with time to spare, but you can’t control for I-15 being shut down from a truck hitting the overpass at Carroll Canyon (hypothetically speaking)  and making you late.  In San Diego, you can reasonably plan an outdoor event well in advance, but even here, sometimes it rains.  Contingency plans can be helpful, but don’t beat yourself up for that which you could not control or reasonably foresee.

So the next time you leave Target and realize that once again the gift card you intended to use is still in your pocket and that you paid with your credit card again (hypothetically speaking), extend yourself some grace.  You’re only human.

[1] A therapist can be helpful for this work.