I was recently at the home of my mentor Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, along with a group of beloved physicians committed to finding meaning in medicine, and we were talking about living with your mistakes.
As part of the discussion, Rachel told a story about the Concorde, the now retired turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airline that used to jet across the Atlantic at lightning speed.
The Perfectly Imperfect Concorde
Apparently, the jet goes too fast for human pilots to keep up with it. One wrong move and the Concorde is way off track. So back when it was still flying, the Concorde was flown by two computers that talk to each other. One autopilot would say something like “Hey! We’re off track! Get back on course!” And the other autopilot would say, “Recalculating. Getting back on track.”
Apparently, you could hear them talking to each other. They prattled on during the entire flight, yada yada yada—“Off track!” “Correcting course!”
One guy on a tour of the Concorde asked why they were constantly talking to each other. Was the Concorde ever on course?
The tour guide said “Yes, about one percent of the time. The other ninety-nine percent of the time the jet veers off course, requiring constant autocorrection.”
When asked what time the plane would arrive in New York by the concerned man, the tour guide said, “At 10 p.m., plus or minus three minutes.”
You Can Be Off Course & Still Reach Your Destination
In other words, it’s not about constantly sticking to the straight and narrow. You veer left. You stray right. You swerve and sway and bump up and down in the air pockets.
Nobody blames the Concorde for getting off course. There’s no shame game or guilt or Gremlins whispering evil-nothings. The Concorde’s computers aren’t screaming at each other, going “You IDIOT! You’re off course! AGAIN!”
No explanation needed. Forgive the fact that you’ve veered off course.
The secret to arriving at your destination is constant auto-correction in the face of the inevitable mistakes we all make. The error is not so much in getting off course. That part is inevitable. We’re human. Nobody is perfect, not even the Concorde. The error comes in not being conscious, aware, present, and humble, in not looking right and left to see where you are, in not checking in with your Inner Pilot Light to see where you might be off course, in not being brave enough to take action, to mindfully auto-correct.
We All Make Mistakes
You broke the law.
You abused your child.
You cheated on your spouse.
You picked the wrong career.
You agreed to the arranged marriage and turned your back on true love.
You injected that heroin.
Your scalpel slipped.
You drove too fast and hit someone.
It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time
I was once in family counseling because someone I love had made a few mistakes. When one of us would ask, “Why would you do such a thing?” the therapist would invariably interrupt and answer on that person’s behalf. His answer: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Over the years, I’ve found his answer strangely comforting, because isn’t that the truth? Even if we have an inkling that what we’re about to do is unethical, out of integrity, illegal, or otherwise “wrong,” part of us really does think it was a good idea to hit the child, shoot up the drug, betray the spouse, or act like a speed demon in a car. It doesn’t excuse the mistake. We can’t just sweep it under the carpet because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
But it can help us find compassion for ourselves when we veer off course. Only when we forgive ourselves can we learn to find peace in the face of inevitable mistakes. If the Concorde doesn’t autocorrect, it gets way the hell off course lickety-split. But as human beings, we’re lucky. We don’t travel at the speed of light, so fortunately for us, when we veer off course, it’s usually slow and ragged. Rarely does a mistake happen in split-second timing. More commonly, it happens in bite-sized chunks, leaving us with plenty of time for gentle, loving self-adjustment. Even if the mistake does happen in an instant, there’s time afterward to make things right, to ask for forgiveness, to get help, to stop the behavior—to right the wrong.
Have you made a mistake?
Too often, when we veer off course, we figure we’ve blown it so badly that we might as well veer further off track. If you’ve already hit the child, you might as well do it again. If you’ve already betrayed your wife, you might as well get it on again with your mistress. If you got high once, you might as well get high all the time. The more off course we get, the harder it is to face what we’ve done, so the more likely it is that we’ll keep veering off track.
But darling, please don’t do this. Forgive yourself for what you’ve done right this moment. Accept this hug:
Forgive what you’ve done. Now start making it right—not tomorrow, but today.
Don’t wait until you’re 1,000 miles off course. It’s harder to find your way when you do. And if you’ve already lost your way, don’t wait another moment to tune in to your inner guidance system and auto-correct.
We’re all off course in some aspect of our lives, and when we are, we wind up sick, unhappy, and numb. Do yourself a favor and slow down. Pay attention. Tune in. Check in with the destination. Make sure it’s the one you really want. Be willing to adjust constantly.
Where are you off course? What baby step can you make today to auto-correct?
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.