What a week! Griffin’s 10th birthday extravaganza ultimately came to an end on Friday at a place called Fun Depot.
How we got there is an interesting story. As you may remember, Griffin had a big “Boffering Birthday Bash” a couple of weeks ago with many of his friends.
He invited his entire 5th grade class and one of his best friends from 4th grade.
As it happens, another one of his friends from 4th grade found out about the party and let Griffin know that she was annoyed that she hadn’t been invited. Griffin immediately apologized and asked how he could make it up to her. She suggested Fun Depot.
Doug and I marveled that Griffin was able to make amends so easily, but then I realized: he’s often heard me ask, “How can I make it right?” when I’ve made a mistake, and he modeled it.
Over time, I’ve learned (just as Griffin has now, apparently) that it’s actually incredibly empowering to take responsibility for your part in whatever your current situation is.
Of course, that’s easy to say, but not so easy to put into action. For that reason, I’ve decided to talk about one of my particularly challenging “make it right” moments below.
Have you ever known that you had to do something and you really hated the thought of doing it?
Almost 6 years ago – when I first started writing this blog – I wrote an article titled Celebrating You.
Months later I got a request from an online magazine for an article on a similar theme, so I decided to submit the Celebrating You article for consideration.
It was accepted – great! – and later picked up by two more popular blogs. Even better!
And then, a couple of nights later I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered – the central idea of my article, which was to “write a love letter to yourself,” had come from someone else’s article.
I put my feelings of panic down, reminding myself that though I had gotten the idea from another article, I had added a great deal of my own thoughts on the subject.
That got me back to sleep, but the next morning I looked at my notes and discovered that an entire paragraph of the other writer’s article had made it into my article nearly verbatim.
Back when my ezine had a fairly small circulation, I thought it was fine to “adapt” an idea, but now, with thousands of people reading the retooled article online, I knew I had to do something.
Problem was, the quick fix—giving credit to the person who had the idea originally – wasn’t available to me.
I went back over my notes, Googled the subject again and again, and could not find the article that had planted the seed.
And so my article, which should have given me pride, had the opposite effect. Now I was full of fear – fear that I would be found out, fear that I would cause problems for the bloggers who had posted my article, and fear that the evidence that I had been so sloppy would convince everyone that I was a bad person.
I knew that I had gotten off track. Way off track.
And then I remembered that the thing to do when I’ve done something wrong is to apologize and ask, “How can I make it right?” This is an especially important question to ask if you have actually hurt someone in the course of your transgression.
If you’re stuck on this point, ask a trusted friend.
In my situation, I knew the only way to get back on track would be to admit to the good people who posted my article that I had made a mistake by presenting my article as something entirely original.
But I was still scared that doing so would bring every single one of my fears to pass.
And so I weighed saying nothing and hoping no one ever found out against admitting my error and trying to make amends.
I dreaded telling anyone. But I dreaded even more the trouble I would cause them if they had to deal with someone else telling them that my article was not original.
As much as I hated admitting my mistake, I knew I would feel better as soon as I fessed up and faced the consequences.
So I took a deep breath and wrote an email to each of them explaining the situation and asking them to remove the article from their websites.
I apologized and said I would do whatever they thought best to make it right. I waited with bated breath until I heard back from them.
I imagined all kinds of scathing responses. My inner critic had a field day. It kept pointing out that I had created a lot of trouble and I was a bad person.
It told me the people I esteemed and valued were never going to want to read anything of mine or work with me again. And who would blame them?
But as it turned out, they were all very kind and understanding. Again, that was years ago, and now the thoughts that mortified me so completely have no power over me – or so I thought until I decided to share them here.
Then I started to feel ill again. I realized that it was one thing to let a few people know my error, but a whole other thing to tell a (now) larger audience. My ego questioned what was to be gained by letting you know.
But I’ve noticed that the things I struggle over tend also to be struggles for other people. And having found that I could make a bad choice, have a mortifying experience, and survive, I thought my story could help others work through the same process.
My intention is to help. But even if I don’t help one other person, I’d still rather share my struggles than look like I’ve got it all together.
I’m not proud of my mistakes, but they are a part of me. I just don’t believe they define me.
In the same way, I want you to know that you are not defined by any of your mistakes either.
Whatever has happened, we can always make it right.
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