A number of years ago I remember watching some talk show that was interviewing Charlie Sheen.
The timing of this interview was fairly significant. He had just gone through a fairly public downward spiral, where he had displayed all sorts of strange and erratic behavior. I don’t really follow celebrity culture, so I don’t remember the details, but I *do* remember some of the things he said in the interview.
He was asked about whether or not he had any regrets about the things he had done, and he said no. He said the past was the past and he couldn’t change it, so he wasn’t going to worry about it.
I’m a big believer in the notion that our life is our own person journey. Along the way we are having all sorts of experiences, and we are constantly making choices. Our experiences and choices are sometimes good, and sometimes bad. But they ultimately shape us into the people we are today. This process never really ends, as we are always growing and changing.
So I understand the notion of trying not to get caught up in the past.
He’s right, the past IS the past. For good OR bad, it’s already happened and can’t be changed; so it really doesn’t make sense to waste energy on something you can’t change.
In fact focusing on the past, getting caught up in it and refusing to let it go, is extremely unhealthy. Often this is referred to as rumination, and it’s something that’s commonly found in both anxiety and depression.
But (and this is a BIG but)…
That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.
The past may have already happened, and we may not be able to change it. However we can ALWAYS learn from it.
We are always going to do some things well, and we are also going to make a lot of mistakes. The value of this experience is LEARNING from it, and trying to grow as a person. To improve, and minimize those mistakes moving forward. To try and do better, and BE better, each and every day.
That is what growth and experience is all about.
And PART of that process is OWNING our mistakes.
Because if we can’t even own our mistakes, then how in the world are we ever supposed to learn from them? How are we supposed to grow?
We don’t grow if we are blaming someone else or rationalizing away our behavior. If we say “sure I did that, but it was because…” then we aren’t truly owning it.
To own our choices we need to be able to say “yes, that was me. I did that. It was MY choice”.
It’s only THEN, that we can recognize how our choices may have impacted or hurt others. And it’s only when we do this that that we can truly apologize for something we have done.
That was my issue with the Charlie Sheen interview back in the day.
I didn’t sense remorse.
I didn’t sense learning or growth.
There didn’t seem to be any real ownership.
Rather, it was “yeah, I did that. But I can’t change the past so it doesn’t really matter”.
He didn’t seem to get the impact his actions, his CHOICES, had on others.
We all do stupid things sometimes. We all have moments where we will say thing or do things that will hurt the people we care about.
And these are moments that over time have the potential to seriously damage a relationship.
I believe that when relationships end, it’s usually not because of a particular incident or event. Sure that happens sometimes, but more often it’s a series of smaller things that allow resentment to gradually build, and over time allows apathy to set in. Most relationships die the death of a thousand cuts; and maybe there’s an incident that pushes things over the edge – but it’s really all the smaller things that have done the real damage.
And that’s where ownership comes in.
People talk about how they would never do anything to hurt someone they love. Well, I have a different take on that.
We may not *want* to hurt those we love, but if you are around someone long enough you will hurt them. That’s just human nature.
And once you have hurt someone, it’s already happened. You can’t take it back.
That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it right though.
Ownership to me is about recognizing what we have done, and how it has impacted those around us. It’s about showing remorse for how we have made the other person feel, and trying to learn from those moments. It’s about taking steps to prevent those sorts of things from happening again in the future.
It may be true that we cannot change the past. But we CAN avoid making the same mistakes. And if we can do that, then we can use the mistakes of our past to build a better future.