That sheepish feeling: don’t let your mistakes define who you are
There’s an old guy in there, sitting all alone, looking gloomy.
“What’s up?” asks the newcomer.
“I really hate my nickname,” says the old guy.
“Oh, why?” he asks.
“Well,” says the old man, “I’ve been a carpenter for 40 years. Do they call me Sam the Carpenter? Oh, no.
“And I’m a keen photographer. I’ve taken over 10,000 photos in the last ten years. Do they call me Sam the Phototographer? Of course not.
“And I’ve been collecting all my life – stamps, coins, china. Do they call me Sam the Collector? No chance.
“But shag just one lousy sheep…”
You don’t need to let your mistakes define who you are
An error of judgment is something you’ve done, not something you are.
Whatever other people think or say about you, it’s still possible to rise above the shame of having made mistakes in the past, and make the effort to build a new future for yourself and your family.
Face the consequences of your actions
You may feel that you’ve managed to get away with your mistake, if no one has found out about it. And if no one suspects what has happened, it may be best to say nothing and never do it again.
But if it’s only a matter of time before what you’ve done is discovered, it may be better to own up now, so at least you’ll get some brownie points for that.
Alternatively, you’ll need to accept that your feelings of shame, guilt and fear are your punishment, and face the pain of having to cope with them.
Put things right if you can
If your mistake has harmed other people, try to make amends if possible. If the disgrace of your actions has brought shame on your family, think of ways to put things right. Or if there is no obvious victim, you might set yourself a target of raising money for an appropriate charity or cause.
You need to feel that you’ve done your best to undo what you’ve done, or you’ll find it much harder to start over.
Give yourself a fresh start
Tell yourself that the rest of your life starts right now. What’s done is done, and from now on, you’re going to look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror.
Sometimes, it’s easier to move to a new job or a home in a different town, where no one knows about your past. (Especially if you’ve shagged a sheep.)
Think of all the good things you’ve done, as well as the bad
Even the most pathetic loser has had some small successes in the past, and made the right choices at some points in their life. The most vicious, hardened criminal has good points to their character. You may have done wrong, but you’re not a bad person.
Everyone makes mistakes. What you are now is the sum of all your experiences and decisions, good and bad, and that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive yourself and move on.
Rebuild your relationships
If your mistake occurred at work, your family may not be affected, but you may need to put in extra effort to improve your relationships with your workmates and regain your boss’s confidence in you. Or if family members are involved, either through betrayal or reflected disgrace, you may have to apologise, reassure them and make up for what you’ve done.
It may take time to get back the trust you had, but it’s important that they can see you’ve changed. For unconditional support, consider getting a pet; a cat or dog won’t know or care what you’ve done in the past.
Rebuild your reputation
The people who know you well will know you’re sorry for what you’ve done and that you’ve done your best to put things right. Convincing outsiders will take longer, so be patient rather than defensive. Don’t avoid outside contact completely, as you need to show the world that you’re not that person any more.
Set yourself new goals
It’s important you have something to look forward to or keep you on the straight and narrow, so plan some personal development goals to help you. Think about what you hope to achieve in the next year, and the next five years – you can still do something worthwhile with your life.