I always end the year by writing about my accomplishments, failure, regrets, and resolutions. I love this time of year because the calendar naturally moves me to reflect and take action. This post is all about 2019 failure.

There was a lot of failure in 2019, and it took many forms. Personal. Professional. Public. Private. Straightforward. Indirect. Institutional. Strategic. Systemic. Biological. Intellectual. There were several moments where I took two steps forward and two steps back (like the Paula Abdul song that only my friend Vadim Liberman remembers).

In those moments where I’ve completely messed up, I’ve tried to shift my attention from failure to atonement.

How do you atone?

First, to atone, we must understand our past experiences and tell the truth to ourselves about why we behave a certain way. It’s hard to do this alone. That’s why therapists charge a lot of money. 

Then, we must forgive ourselves for the way we acted in the past. But how do you overcome shame and trauma? How do you forgive yourself? 

My therapist told me to visualize myself in a room with a teeny tiny version of Laurie Ruettimann sitting next to me. I’m supposed to see that little girl for all of her sunshine and sweetness, then hug that little version of Laurie and tell her that it’s going to be okay. Offer her love and comforting words. Hear her sadness, feel her pain, and love her in the most kindly and authentically way possible. Forgive her if she cannot forgive herself. 

Although I’m not very good at visualization — and I’m still teeny tiny — I can take the spirit of that exercise and be kinder to myself. That’s a gift.

Failure acknowledged but left unaddressed is still a failure. The next step is to atone. Every situation is different, and nobody can give you a roadmap to fixing your life, but atonement can take many forms.

  1. Offer an apology and promise to change your behavior—followed by action.
  2. Stop making mistakes. Find better self-care rituals to avoid internal meltdowns. 
  3. Atone by avoiding repetition. Develop an avoidance strategy to minimize triggers that drive you to behave in ways that are incongruent with your values.
  4. Do the work. Plan for a different future and revisit the plan regularly with people you love and trust.
  5. Show love and empathy when other people fail.
  6. Forgive others when they behave in similar ways.
  7. Recognize that atonement doesn’t mean forgiveness. Give people space to grieve. Respect them if they never come around. 

The only failure in life is to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Every day is an opportunity for a do-over. You can’t do much about the past, but atonement means you have a fresh start and an opportunity to change the future. So, be like me and atone for your mistakes in 2019. Give yourself a fighting chance to fail in new and more interesting ways in 2020 and beyond.