Sunday, August 20, 2017

Warm crow tastes better than cold crow

Have you ever held on to something for way longer than it served any good purpose? A resentment or guilt about something you had done? Have you ever experienced what it's like when you really let it go?

Many years ago, I made a big mistake at work - and it cost the company some money. I exercised some really poor judgement, and to make it worse, I never owned up to it directly. I let my boss think someone else was to blame, and never set the record straight before I left to take another job a few months later.

Instead of looking at what I had done, it was easier to think about what I imagined the management there had done to me (paid me too little, worked me too many hours and many other minor imagined injustices). The longer I let it go without owning up to it, the more I felt justified in doing so. I spent a lot of time, effort and energy thinking about this incident and the people I used to work for - every time I did, shame, guilt and resentment boiled to the surface.

Years later, I had a valued mentor point out that I was letting this incident take up valuable real estate in my head and that I had all the power in the world to make it go away. She suggested that I write a letter to them and own up to what I had done and offer to pay them back. She told me to pray about the situation, pray for the right words, and pray for all of the people involved.

Begrudgingly, I did what she suggested.

I'll admit that I didn't feel better instantly. I kept the people involved in my prayers for weeks. I still thought about that situation from time to time in the months after sending the letter, but then, somewhere along the way, it left me. I am not sure when, but it did and here's how I realized it.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when my sister (who still lives in the same town) ran into my former boss at a concert. She texted me to tell me - and it actually took me a few minutes to even remember who she was talking about. When I finally remembered who she was talking about, I didn't have an emotional reaction or weird feeling - there was nothing. No shame. No guilt. No resentment. Nothing.

My sister followed up with a photo of the two of them together, and it made me smile. My former boss looks great, and I told my sister to share my good wishes to her. It actually made my heart happy to see her smiling face, and I spent a few minutes thinking about the good memories of my time working for her.

If you had told me when the incident happened that I would be better served to own up to my mistake than to stay quiet, I would have told you that you were dead wrong. If you had told me that I could feel that way about my former boss, I would have told you that you were crazy. If you had told me that I didn't have to carry around those negative feelings for so many years, I would have argued with you that I was justified to do so.

I was wrong. It was actually more freeing to tell the truth and to own up to my mistake. The freedom I got from saying a few prayers and sending a letter was a thousand times better than the short term effort of doing so.

I've heard it said that "warm crow tastes better than cold crow" - and I know that to be true. It is way easier to make amends when the incident is still fresh and feelings are still injured. If I let it fester, I can turn it into something bigger and worse than it really is. Worse, if I let it fester, I can make it someone else's fault and convince myself I don't have anything to make amends for at all.

There's a 100% chance that I will make (many) mistakes again - hopefully, they will be new ones and not repeats, but I will make them. This experience was a powerful reminder that the real freedom comes from owning up to them and not in getting away with them.