I have trouble starting over. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a game, a business venture, a relationship or a job. If I find things going poorly, I want to walk away. I feel humiliated. I want to quit.
Starting over would be an admission of failure, that I hadn’t been good enough. It’s easier to just move on to something new, because I’m uncomfortable with the messiness of fixing something that’s gone wrong.
When I was a student at the University of Alabama, I had been dating a bright and beautiful nursing student for a few months. Then we had a disagreement about something. It was minor — and I don’t recall the details — but we stopped talking. I wanted to continue the relationship, but I wasn’t willing to go to her and say, “How can we work this out?”
I didn’t see this woman for several years. I had moved on and married someone else. Then I was in Tuscaloosa one day and ran into her. We talked about what had happened.
“I knew I was wrong,” she told me, “but I didn’t know how to admit that and reconcile things with you. I kept hoping you would call me again and we could start over, but since you didn’t, I figured you didn’t care and I gave up on us.”
I learned the truth too late. We had both wanted to reconcile, but neither one of us knew how to open the door and then start over.
I am a stubborn perfectionist in a very imperfect world. I have trouble tolerating my own imperfections — and I’ve often lost out on things I wanted simply because things weren’t perfect.
I should know better, of course. There aren’t any perfect solutions. There aren’t any perfect people. Real-life solutions are messy. But I’m someone who has wanted people and plans and situations to be perfect.
That’s held me back at times from starting something — or from fixing something — simply because I couldn’t see a perfect conclusion from where I was starting.
But the people we love and the people we go through life with aren’t perfect. We will make mistakes we don’t anticipate. They will, too. People will hurt us and we’ll think we’re finished with them. Our plans will have detours and our egos will have bruises.
We will be hurt and we’ll feel defeated at times. But we have to keep moving ahead anyway. The only alternative is to wait forever for some form of perfection which isn’t humanly possible — and we’ll only move forward with people who we’ve pretended are perfect and who will then disappoint us.
This has been a hard lesson for me to learn. Maybe it has been for you, too.
You can deal with imperfect people. You can deal with failures — in yourself and others — but only if you (and they) are willing to learn from inevitable mistakes.
If you can say, “I screwed up about this and I know I did, but I’d like us to start over,” that can change everything. But you have to have the humility to admit what you’ve done wrong — and the other person has to have the grace and humility to accept you again, too.
And then when one person (or both of you) can admit to mistakes and agree to start over, then comes the hard work of rebuilding trust. That’s difficult.
So how do you set your ego — and fear of failure — aside long enough to move forward toward what you’re afraid you can’t have anymore? You have to ask yourself, because you probably already know the answers.
“What could I do today to set things right with someone? What could I actually do today to start fixing something I’ve ignored, repairing a broken relationship that I need to fix?”
If you ask yourself these questions, you’ll often be shocked to realize that you already know the answers. You’ve just been afraid to ask. You’ve been afraid to hear the answers — because you’ve been afraid to swallow your pride and start over.
It’s easy to give up on the things we want and walk away. We’ve all done it. Sometimes we’ve been wrong. Sometimes we’ve messed up. And sometimes it’s been someone else who’s been wrong. Walking away in such cases is easy.
Starting over can be hard. It can require admitting we’ve messed up. It can require seeing that we were overconfident. It can require reconciling we someone we’ve hurt. It can require us to do things that will make us uncomfortable.
But if what you wanted matters enough to you, it’s never too late. You can always swallow your pride and ask, “Is it too late to start over?”