Dr. Tara’s Sunshine Reflections: Learning From Our Mistakes

I met with a friend recently to make amends.  We had had a falling out and, to be honest, I hadn't really known why.

My girlfriend was open with me and explained that I had said something at a dinner out with another friend that had been hurtful to her.  Afterwards, she had needed some space to reconcile herself with this and feel ready to speak to me about it.

Teaching Children Accountability: We Must Be Accountable Ourselves

In our discussion, I found myself doing what I try to teach my children.  Instead of getting defensive or accusing back, I owned what I had done and held myself accountable.  It had been absolutely unintentional, but I had nonetheless made a transgression that had caused her discomfort and pain.

I listened to her story and how she felt with caring and empathy.  I was honest in admitting that I did not recall what I had said or why.  I did remember being in a difficult headspace and struggling to be engaged.  In retrospect, I likely should not have been at the dinner at all -- I had been too overwhelmed and divided by conflicting responsibilities.  Despite having a partial explanation for not being my “usual self”, I had clearly made a mistake.  How I wish I could go back and have a redo, but we all know that’s not how life works.  Instead, I told her that I was truly sorry for what I had done and for the emotional pain it had caused her.  I looked at the situation from her perspective and admitted that I could understand why it had been hurtful.  I respected her need for both space and for having the courage to discuss it with me.

Discovering the Secrets of a Happy Life: Own Your Actions with Honesty & Empathy

None of us are perfect people.  We make mistakes all the time.  Sometimes these mistakes affect only us and are easier to admit and learn from -- think a repeated error on a math test where we can quickly identify what we need to practice for the next one.  Other times, our unintentional mistakes hurt others.  This is clearly something my physician colleagues and I grapple with in the uncertain and risky world of medicine.

The same “rules” apply for these mistakes.  We need to be open to seeing what we have done, to empathize and share other perspectives, to admit wrongdoing, and accept responsibility for our actions.  We also need to learn from our mistakes to grow and evolve in our professional and personal lives.  

The Power of Human Connection: Communicating Effectively to Build Better Relationships

In concluding our talk, I shared with my girlfriend what I had learned from this experience and how I would incorporate that learning moving forward.  While this approach cannot “make everything better”, she told me that my honest apology, ownership of behaviour and empathy truly made a difference.  I was once again reminded that by connecting in a spirit of compassion and authenticity, we can help our relationships grow to be healthier and stronger.