Every day I speak to people who have failed—or at least they believe they have failed.
A relationship has deteriorated, a marriage has ended, a loss has been sustained, a mistake has been made, a dream has died; and in the wake of these defeats they invariably find themselves wondering what they could have done to change things. They become certain of their every error. In addition to grieving all that has happened they now prosecute themselves for the past negligence they believe they are surely guilty of.
Maybe you’ve been there.
Maybe you’re there right now.
Maybe you’re mourning the end of something and wondering if you did the best that you could.
You probably did.
Even if you now look back on a situation or conversation and imagine you could have been wiser or more forgiving or kinder or better—you likely couldn’t have. Given what you knew and how you felt and how much pain you were in and how tired you were and what was in front of you, that decision was the only one you could have made. Regardless of how poorly you now judge your performance, it was the best that you could do.
As much as we want to, we don’t get to live life in the rearview mirror. We can’t look back and imagine that we would respond differently, because time has allowed us just enough space and perspective and wisdom as to be safely outside of our past circumstances and to see them differently:
We can now critique former ourselves as some detached observer:
We see every red flag that was invisible to us.
We notice the defensiveness and selfishness we were oblivious to.
We spot every careless and damaging word before we speak it.
We foresee every stumble and misstep.
We sidestep all our approaching failures.
But that’s not how you got here. You didn’t get to stand back and watch it all from a distance. You went through those painful, difficult things in real-time. You crawled through the noisy, jagged trenches of your sadness and fatigue and fear, and you gutted it out the only way you knew how. Your response may have been flawed or impulsive or foolish or less than ideal—but it was the best you could do.
Yeah, you weren’t perfect but welcome to freakin’ humanity. You’re in good stinkin’ company here. Every single one of us becomes a genius after we sh*t the bed and drop the ball and everything falls apart. In retrospect we can all save the day and avoid catastrophe. Looking back, every plan works, every relationship endures, every summit is reached.
Too bad we can’t jump ahead a few days and live this day perfectly, because chances are we’ll think we did the best we could today—and later feel very wrong about that.
Life isn’t for the faint of heart, friend. It’s a heavy burden trying to walk through a day you’ve never been to and to get it all right and it’s no small task to survive here and to be perfect while doing it.
Don’t let the you in this moment crucify your former self for what that person did or failed to do. You’ve now had time and distance that version of you simply didn’t have.
No matter how things unfolded and even if you believe you have failed, you did the best you could. You really did, so show yourself some mercy.
Now go and do the best you can do in this day—and have a little grace for yourself tomorrow when you become brilliant.