Should One Mistake Define a Life?

Bill Buckner, who played for the Boston Red Sox, died on May 27 at the age of 69. During his more than 20 year career in the major league, Buckner built up a tremendous resume: 2,715 hits, 174 home runs, 1,208 runs batted in, a batting title, and was named an All Star. But he knew that he would be remembered for one mistake that played out during the 1986 World Series. In game six, the Red Sox were within one out of winning their first World Series in 68 years. Buckner failed to properly field a ground ball that was hit up the first base line. The ball rolled through his legs allowing the New York Mets to score the winning run and become World Series champions.

Despite being booed and receiving death threats, Buckner handled the situation with grace. He never criticized the other players. After all, earlier missteps in that inning had allowed the Mets to tie the score, thus placing a Red Sox victory in jeopardy. And Buckner played with grit, never complaining about his many physical limitations, including a serious ankle injury that might have affected his play. 

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. Buckner’s was a very public one that he could not hide. That’s the case with many athletes, whether they play baseball, football, tennis, or golf. Many of us, however, make mistakes that few people know about but allow these missteps to haunt us and, perhaps, even sabotage our lives. A past mistake may prevent us from taking a future risk, one that could pay off handsomely. We may be afraid to leave a job we hate to start a business. A past mistake may damage our relationships. We may stay in an unhealthy relationship, worried that if we leave, we may be alone and never find another partner.

Rather than hide from a mistake, confront it, embrace it, learn from it. Here are some things to think about:

Was the mistake intentional? If you made a mistake based on faulty information provided by others, then the mistake wasn’t yours alone. Next time, you may have to review someone’s else work or motivation before moving ahead.

Did you learn something valuable? Perhaps the mistake was a “good” one, allowing you to be better prepared for the unexpected next time around.

Was the mistake really all that devastating? Hopefully, you don’t have dozens of mistakes that you can compare and contrast. But don’t be so hard on yourself. If the mistake you made was the worst one you’ve ever made, then it may not be so bad.

Is there someone who needs an apology? If so, do it and then let it go. You don’t need to keep reminding others of your failing.

Examine your emotions. Did you make a mistake because you were angry and not thinking clearly? Next time, step away and calm down before you act.

Stop the negative thoughts. These often happen at night, just before sleep. You may revisit a past mistake, even if it happened a long time ago, replaying that scenario in your mind again and again. When that happens, do whatever you can to  change the channel.

Develop empathy for other people’s mistakes. Your experience may help others.

Remember that forgiveness is always possible. In 1990, after time with the California Angels and Kansas City Royals, Buckner returned to the Red Sox. The fans gave him a standing ovation. And when the Red Sox finally won their second World Series, Buckner returned in 2008 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch when the players received their championship rings. Once again, fans were on their feet cheering.

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