Lessons Learned from 3 Big Mistakes I’ve Made
I’ve had a lot of training and practice in communication. But my best teachers have often been my mistakes. I’ve screwed up many, many times… and those screw-ups have caused me pain. But they have also led to learning some important lessons.
Here are three things I’ve learned from some painful communication mistakes:
1. Don’t call your best friend a bitch.
One day in high school, I was playing cards at lunch. My best friend watched from the side. She didn’t want to play. And she didn’t really want me to play either. As the game got increasingly intense, she felt increasingly bored and left out. Finally, she reached over mid-play and messed up all the cards.
I gasped, horrified, like a typical teenage drama queen. “Bitch!” I yelled, glaring at her. Then, after a contemptuous huff, I gathered up the cards and reshuffled them, turning my back to her.
She left. She wouldn’t talk to me. She wouldn’t walk home with me after school. She wouldn’t even look at me. I thought her reaction was a bit excessive, but also realized I needed to apologize.
The next day, I approached her, but before I could even get the words out, she said with a catch in her voice, “My parents said we can’t be friends anymore. They said someone who calls me a bitch isn’t a good friend.” That was it. No second chance. I lost my best friend.
I think she may have learned a lesson that day, too, because she was just as grieved as I was. But boy, was it ever a lesson for me! I learned that hurtful words can have long term consequences. You can’t take back your communication, whether it’s a cutting word, a look, or a gesture.
Your communication can tear down or it can build up. It can hurt or it can heal. It has the power to change the course of your life, for better or for worse. Even if you have a difficult, uncomfortable truth to share, how you deliver it matters. Your communication can be a barrier or it can be a catalyst for change.
That day, I learned that my communication matters. And I want to use it for good.
2. Don’t hide from people you like.
Later in high school, I developed a huge crush on my assigned lab partner in Physics class. He had such a great sense of humor! It helped, too, that he was also good-looking, athletic, and popular—super important in high school. The hour in Physics when I got to sit next to him was the best part of my day all semester.
And of course, since I had such a huge crush on him, I did what any insecure, socially anxious person would do: I ignored him. And I hoped he’d ignore me. I sat as quiet as a mouse, never joined in conversation, and didn’t smile or make eye contact. I was so sure of rejection, I did everything I could to make myself invisible. If he didn’t know I existed, he couldn’t reject me.
At the beginning of the new semester, I was heartbroken to find that he was no longer my lab partner. Frankly, I got over him pretty quickly… but that behavior became a pattern. Looking back, through high school and college, a few determined extroverts managed to make friends with me despite my fear of rejection, but I wonder how many relationships I missed out on!
It wasn’t until years later that I asked myself, “Why did I assume that guy in Physics would be mean to me?” He wasn’t snotty or snobby or rude. He was a nice guy. I’m pretty sure we could have at least been friends. But the possibility never even occurred to me at the time.
How many opportunities have you missed out on because of some erroneous made-up story that’s founded on your own insecurity and preconceived notions about what other people think?? How many resources? How many advancements? How many relationships?
You communicate all the time, even when you’re hiding. And that lack of communication can have just as profound an impact on your life as negative communication.
What I eventually learned is that I’m missing out on a lot of good things due to negative assumptions. Once I was willing to be seen, I gained more wonderful relationships and opportunities than I could have imagined!
3. Don’t verbally abuse yourself.
A few years ago, I was going through a depression and struggling with some harmful habits. I started writing down my thoughts when the urge to do the self-destructive behavior hit. After a few days, I was shocked and dismayed to see pages and pages of terrible words.
I am such a miserable failure. I am such a waste of human life. I don’t deserve to take up space on the planet. I can never do anything right. I will never be good enough. I hate myself. I wish I were dead. Everyone in my life would be better off if I was dead…
No wonder I was depressed! I was living with a constant stream of verbal abuse as the soundtrack of my life! I would never talk to anyone else that way. I would never allow anyone else to speak to me that way. Why did I think it was okay to speak that way to myself?
When faced with actual printed words on a page, I could clearly see how my thoughts were shaping my mood, my actions, and the direction my life was headed. I had to change.
It was a long, slow process. I began with gratitude. I started writing down things I was grateful for every day. Then, I discovered an affirmation in a book that I felt comfortable-ish with: I live to my fullest potential to bless all. I started saying it to myself in the mirror every morning. I started reading and writing positive reminders regularly. I started journaling. I tried to get negativity OUT and resilience IN. And little by little my outlook, behaviors, and mental health began to improve.
I’m definitely a work in progress on this one. But as I said, your communication can tear YOU down or it can build YOU up. It can hurt you or it can heal you. It has the power to change the course of your life, for better or for worse.
Looking at all that negativity, I learned that my communication and my life are my responsibilities. I choose to take responsibility for both, by speaking to myself with honesty and kindness.
All three of these lessons can be summed up in one: How you communicate, to yourself and to others, shapes your life. Use that power wisely.