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Cover image for Screwing up. Advice on forgiving your inner child.

Screwing up. Advice on forgiving your inner child.

Cubicle Buddha
TypeScript nut + head writer at CubicleBuddha.com (other loves are cats, my wife, comic books, and VGs)
Originally published at cubiclebuddha.com on ・3 min read

I made a mistake today. Not the “calculated risk” kind of mistake that we recommend on this blog. I’m talking a plain-old, stupid error. I get it that bugs happen. But the problem was my response to discovering the bug. Strangely enough, after a minutes I found myself thinking judgmental thoughts about family, co-workers, and friends about behaviors of theirs that I don’t like. Is that a coincidence? No, it doesn’t take a psychologist to identify that I was project my feels of self-criticism out to others. Great. Now I’m being critical of myself for being critical of others!

So how does a person break out of this blame cycle?

To be honest, when I was in the middle of my recursive, blame tornado… I was completely unable to see a solution. Moreover, I was unable to see the problem of how my work snafu was unrelated to the actions of my family. Well luckily for me, there were some chores outside that would force me to use my body and to disconnect. Miraculous things happen when you exercise even a little bit. While out in the yard, it occurred to me that I was forgetting the most useful solution that Buddhism has to offer: the inner child. There’s no better way to approach self-judgment than with this question:

Would you let your son or daughter judge themself so harshly?

If the answer is “no,” then why are continuing to judge yourself? Not only is that a simple logical conclusion, but it’s also a great framework for healing. You can use this metaphor where you imagine the portion of yourself that are hurting to be a child. This is your inner child. Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, completes the metaphor by describing how the process of caring for ourselves can spark remarkable change:

“Just by holding this child gently, we are soothing our difficult emotions and we can begin to feel at ease. When we embrace our strong emotions with mindfulness and concentration, we’ll be able to see the roots of these mental formations. We’ll know where our suffering has come from. When we see the roots of things, our suffering will lessen. So mindfulness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.”

And just like that I realized that I shouldn’t be upset at myself for the programming mistake I made at work. As they say,”mistakes happen.” And all it took was a little bit of exercise, a little bit of quiet contemplation, and a lot of forgiveness.

Once I made the breakthrough, I was able to see that random thoughts that had popped up about my family and friends were simply unrelated and unnecessary. After all, if I can forgive myself then it was easy enough to forget the transgressions my brain was coming up with.

Now I’m free to go enjoy my time with my wife and my cat without worrying about my day at work. There’s no time like the present and presently I am mistake free! It’s so strange that I, the author of a self-care blog, would be stuck in mistakes of the past. But we can’t escape our biology. As evolutionary psychologist and author Robert Wright mentioned in an interview with WHYY, “we are condemned to always want things to be a little different, always want a little more. We’re not designed by natural selection to be happy” (1). But as his book “Why Buddhism Is True” described, we have an opportunity to override our programming. So as I described above, take the time to see yourself, acknowledge/accept the pain, and to forgive yourself.

Calculated risk or silly screwup, they’re all opportunities to learn and grow, which requires acceptance. So while your at it, give your friends, family, and coworkers the true gift of forgiveness so they can also life with freedom in the present moment.

Discussion (2)

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Scott Simontis

I love all of your articles. As a not-so-dedicated practitioner of Zen Buddhism, you remind me of so many important points from my studies. This was so relevant today; basically I realized I picked the wrong job. I made some assumptions and turned down my dream job on a technicality which I now realize wasn't even a real issue. I had assumed I had a conflict of interest because of a startup opportunity I was looking at pursuing, but I made the assumption that because I had all the technical knowledge they would give me some of the 70% of the equity that the "idea" guy who lacks technical skills to complete the project would get. Nope. I get paid at contract rates I negotiate and assuming they/I succeed and the company sells, I get nothing.

I found another job quickly, but the start date was 6 weeks away from my conditional offer. 4 weeks into that period, I don't have an official answer. I've drained all my money waiting for this job, and the lack of a definite answer has me frightened. I've been beating myself up for days about how stupid I've been and how many poor decisions I have made and what a fuckup I've been and I really needed to read this.

It's not like I have instantly forgiven myself, but I have decided to stop digging and work out getting out of this shithole.

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cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha Author

That’s so kind of you to say! 😊 I don’t always have the energy to write, but comments like this help keeping me going! Please share with friends and other people who need some self-care.

turned down my dream job

That’s so sad to hear. But also, it made me think about the Buddhist quote “nothing to attain.” In other words, there is no perfect job. For some people, the best job they ever had are the ones with the worst tech, worst subject, worst office but that has the funniest coworkers. I hope you’ll be able to find a job that gives you satisfaction— in fact, I’m confident that you will! :) It just might take time. I hated my job for the first 6 years... and now I like it so much that I blog about it! Haha. It just took that long to gain confidence in my skills and an employer who supported me enough to allow me to excel.

I've been beating myself up for days about how stupid I've been and how many poor decisions I have made

We’ve all been there. You’re not alone. I can’t tell you how many jobs I forgot to ask about a signing bonus for and then found out from friends later that they all got bonuses. Live and learn, right?

The best news is that you and I are on our path to making less mistakes. Best of luck friend! :)