“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” – Oscar Wilde
We have always been taught to seek happiness through an optimistic future plan. You should not dwell on the past you can’t change because your future is an open book. There are endless possibilities for what lies ahead, that much I can’t contest.
But my future will be molded by the actions of my present and my actions are influenced by the mistakes in my past.
When you’ve made as many bad choices as I have, it’s difficult to pretend that they haven’t impacted your life so far. As a teenager, I was a tearaway with a chip on my shoulder and a fondness for vodka in dangerous quantities.
The intervention came when I was arrested, reprimanded and promptly sent to a far-off boarding school. Which worked well enough. I went on to earn a degree I hated which I used to land a couple of jobs I hated, even more, to save for a backpacking trip around the southern hemisphere.
I stayed in the latest job I didn’t like for a lot longer than I should have done. Really, the job wasn’t for me right from the beginning but I told myself it would be a mistake to give it up.
When I finally quit I didn’t leave my bed for a month. I went on a downward spiral, dwelling on every mistake I’d ever made. I was unemployed, depressed, and still living with my Mum. The possibility of a happy future was hidden from me by a smog of self-hatred. I figured, why should I bother brushing my teeth when I don’t even want to exist?
Then, just as I thought I’d never shower again, I had a revelation. I realized that, instead of beating myself up over the mistakes I’d made, I could look at what they taught me.
Skipping that much school taught me that I have a lot left to learn. Getting arrested taught me that I am not invincible. Earning an (unnecessary) degree taught me that there’s more to success than just a good job. Drinking that much vodka taught me that I don’t like vodka and neither do my kidneys.
Leaving my job and following my passion taught me that it’s OK not have a plan. Sometimes you just have to see what happens next.
It has taken until my mid-twenties to understand that each mistake I made has guided my experience. I am a direct result of the mistakes I made, but I should not be ruled by them. They were lessons learned from the misguided notion that I ought to do what everyone else is doing to be successful.
Just because you have made mistakes in the past, that doesn’t mean they have to hinder your future. I am now writing for a living, surrounding myself with people who make me feel alive, and will, finally, be going backpacking this year.