06.11.12 Truth & Wisdom

You Live and You Learn

You Live and You Learn

BY Kiki Ochieng

People make mistakes. We can excuse our actions with claims of youthful misguidance, with the old adage that “hindsight is 20-20” or by brushing them under the rug never to be addressed again.

However, one of the most beautiful aspects of life is the way in which we continue to grow and evolve mentally, physically and emotionally. Making mistakes – no matter how ugly or humiliating they may be – teaches us about our strengths and weaknesses. Mistakes challenge us to take an ugly experience and learn from it.

Though I may be young, like many of the young women born during the Third Wave of feminism, I have slowly started to understand the idea that no one is perfect. Occasionally the infinite possibilities for women can feel simultaneously constraining because of the pressure to do everything and to do it well. When comparing yourself to idealized images of pop culture and falling short of expectations, it can often feel like a crushing blow to your self-esteem, but it’s important to recognize that nobody is perfect. From the White House to the real world, everyone has had their fair share of slip-ups. The notion of a charmed life is a myth. So why pretend anymore? Acknowledging and sharing your blunders with others is a way to move past them and help others avoid similar situations. At the end of the day, accepting your own personal imperfections as well as the imperfections of those around you is a crucial part of learning from your mistakes.

I have always been fascinated by how harshly people judge themselves. I, along with many other women, am definitely my toughest critic when it comes to the literal and metaphorical mirror. However, I have come to realize that it’s good to cut yourself some slack every once in a while. Looking at the all of the strong, independent women in my life, I can see the common thread of the “superwoman complex” – the idea that you can do it all. But some times you can’t. And that’s okay too. Besides, slip-ups and embarrassing moments make tales of everyday life significantly more amusing and remind us that we’re only human.

The thing about life is that nobody’s ever gotten a perfect handle on it. There are no directions. No manuals. No do-overs. In many cases, you can only tackle it by the horns and hope for the best. There’s no one way to approach the myriad circumstances that we find ourselves in, but there is a way to insert some reasoning in the aftermath of a bad bump in the road.

Even if you’re not obtaining a significant amount of personal growth from a mistake, you will, at the very least, know how to avoid repeating it. Everything in life from a bad relationship to a misguided career move can be taken as a lesson. You can often know more about yourself when all is said and done than when life is moving along swimmingly. When things are going well, we have a tendency to float along without checking in with ourselves. Challenging times force you to examine yourself – a critical step in maturity.

Winston Churchill once said that “failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” You cannot beat yourself up about something that’s happened; there’s no use crying over spilt milk. Rather, you can take your experience, analyze your actions and learn how to better approach the situation the next time around. Nothing will change from harping about a negative state of affairs. Engaging in a bit of wallowing is a natural reaction to a mistake, but you should take care to ensure that your self-pity party doesn’t become a prolonged indulgence. Instead, take the opportunity to derive a positive outcome from it.

Even the worst pessimist can afford a ray of sunshine every now and then.

Kiki Ochieng is a 19-year-old from Washington, DC, a member of Yale University Class of 2015 and a self-professed global citizen and feminist. Her blog, lapolitique.tumblr.com, consists of posts addressing a variety of topics including politics, gender issues, race relations and the media. She has written and spoken regularly about these subjects at Yale and has appeared on programs such as BBC's World Have Your Say. Follow her on twitter @kikiochieng.

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