Not that long ago I did something that was deeply disappointing to someone in my family.
It was not done out of malice. It was a simple oversight, the result of a life lived too fast without enough thought. It was likely a result of multi-tasking, to be honest.
I’ll keep the details to myself to spare the hearts of those involved. What’s important to know is that the thing I did was the kind of thing one obsesses over and wishes desperately she could turn back the clock to undo.
I would love to say I will never do something like this again. And while it’s unlikely that I’ll do this exact thing again, I will most definitely screw up and disappoint someone I love again.
As much as we continue to steer our compass toward perfection, we must accept that we are human. And humans are imperfect. So we screw up and will continue to do so.
It’s how we deal with these inevitable screw-ups, though, that really makes all the difference.
The moment I realized my screw-up, after my heart fell out of my butt (as my friend Meggan Watterson likes to say), I picked up the phone.
Picking up the phone, admitting we were wrong, and saying sorry goes a really, really long way.
Does it always fix things? No. But more often than not, it begins the repair process.
Did I feel like picking up the phone and apologizing? No, I did not. I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.
But I picked up the phone. And as my voice cracked I sincerely apologized. I told this person how much she means to me, how my mistake had nothing to do with my lack of love for her, and that I was so, very, deeply sorry.
We ended up having one of the most beautiful conversations we’ve ever had. We both cried. We both said how much we meant to each other. We both sighed deep sighs of relief.
I hung up the phone feeling more connected to this person than ever. And it took less than ten minutes.
The immediate pain of having the tough conversation we’d rather not have is significantly less than the chronic, un-subsiding pain of avoiding it.
It’s masochistic to peel a Band-Aid off your hairy arm millimeter by millimeter. Why would you do that?
Similarly, it’s masochistic to let apologies that need to be made or truths that need to be proclaimed fester.
My friend Mike Robbins shared something one of his mentors said to him:
Do you know what stands between you and the kind of relationships you really want to have? It’s probably just a ten-minute, sweaty-palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.
When you screw up (which we all will, over and over again until we die), address it. Have the sweaty-palmed conversation. Pick up the phone. Knock on the door. Say you’re sorry.
A timely apology may not fix everything, but it’s a really good place to start.
I’m happy to report that I look back on my careless error as a moment that created connection instead of separation. That’s the power of dealing with, rather than avoiding, matters of the heart.
What ten-minute, sweaty-palmed conversation do you need to have? When was a time you were willing to have one of these uncomfortable conversations and what happened as a result? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!
P.S. Looking for a great listen this summer? My first bestselling book Money: A Love Story is now available in AUDIO! Check it out here.
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