Failure and Negative Nostalgia – Speaking of Failure: Attila the Hun, Hitler, Satan and Me

By Barry Maher

We all know that we need to grant ourselves and the people we work with the freedom to make mistakes. And we all know that’s easier said than done.

If you get paralyzed by fear of failure, you might try telling yourself that anything worth doing is worth doing wrong. And although that hasn’t worked out too well for the government, for the rest of us it’s frequently how we learn to do things right.

Applaud the mistakes people make when taking risks. Of course, the key here is to make sure those are well-considered risks. We don’t have to look too hard around us today to see the results of risks that weren’t properly considered. No applause is necessary.

Still, though we claim to value risk taking, most organizations venerate risk takers when they succeed and punish them when they fail. We live in a society that tries to insulate itself completely from risk.

How’s that working out?

According to Harper’s Index, before the year 2000 millennium, 10,113 virgins purchased insurance against immaculate conception. I don’t believe it either, but if it’s really true I hope they got a good rate.

Beware of Negative Nostalgia

Obviously, sometimes our failures do us harm. Worse, sometimes they harm others. This is especially true with those failures we consider ethical lapses. But it’s not my job to punish you. What’s more, I don’t think it’s your job to punish you either. No matter how much you may feel you deserve it. Punishing yourself will accomplish nothing. I don’t care if you’re Attila the Hun.

I don’t care if you’re Adolph Hitler.

I don’t care if you’re Satan.

Did I state that strongly enough?

I don’t care what you’ve done in the past. I only care about what you are now and what you will be in the future. We need to stop trying to change yesterday. Like my good Catholic mother making a perfect confession, we need to absolve ourselves of the past. Free yourself of it or risk being either paralyzed or corrupted by it. If you honestly feel that the damage you caused merits some form of restitution, then make restitution. Then learn your lessons and move on.

Beating ourselves up over the past—negative nostalgia—is like any other form of nostalgia, in that it’s not going to improve tomorrow, and it can divert our attention and keep us from taking advantage of what’s going on around us today.

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Las Vegas, Nevada

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