Moving Past Mistakes

Move on

John Fountain is a success. In his 30-year career in advertising he’s been a senior copy writer, creative director, and now freelances for brands including Sky, Vodafone and Neutrogena. He has impeccable testimonials and an enviably slick website.

He has every reason to be content with his path. But no.

Blogging for Creative Pool, he tells of choosing his first job, age 18:

Do I take the full-time job at a shitty agency and prove my old man wrong? Or do I take the gamble of a two-week placement at CDP, the best agency in the world, and try and get a foot in the door?

Instead of following his gut and going for “the best agency in the world” John plumped for the full-time job — and was made redundant six months later. Chalk it up to experience, right? Again, no.

I really could have kicked myself. And let me tell you that 30 years on, I still do.

I hope, for John’s sake, this is hyperbole. Because if he means it, that’s tragic.

Thirty years of growth, learning, success, self-reinvention, and you’re still upset over a choice made at 18? Even if it was a mistake, move on. To wish a part of your life undone is to wish yourself away. It’s a negation of who you are and what you’ve done.

We all wonder “what if?” sometimes. What if that romance had worked out? What if I’d gotten that promotion? What if the accident hadn’t happened? What if I’d gone to a different school? We can drive ourselves crazy with “what if?” but it’s childish and destructive. Everything we do becomes part of who we are. Maybe especially the things that don’t work out the way we’ve planned.

I got sacked, once, after a wretched, exhausting, humiliating spat with a vile boss. It was horrible. And it was the catalyst for my moving to Ibiza, which is the best thing I’ve ever done.

The point is: no one can see the future. In the heat of a decision, it’s easy to think “Oh shit, I got that wrong” but with time and patience we see the bigger picture. If we refuse to recognise the warp and woof of accident and intent that make up the tapestry of our lives we refuse to accept ourselves. And if we can’t accept ourselves, we can’t respect ourselves.

In Ralph Emerson’s seminal novel Invisible Man the narrator’s moment of truth comes when he realises that:

Past humiliations… were more than separate experiences. They were me; they defined me. I was my experiences and my experiences were me, and no blind men… could take that, or change one single itch, taunt, laugh, cry, scar, ache, rage or pain of it.

We can learn from our mistakes and move on, or we can drag them with us like a ball-and-chain. It’s our choice.

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