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GUEST COLUMN

Recovering from bloopers, blunders and life-altering lapses of judgment

Have you ever made a horrible mistake? I'm not referring to a bad perm or a powder blue tux kind of mistake.

Or a medium-sized error, like discovering sea foam green looks much better on a two-inch sample than it does on an entire car. Or that dirty jokes don't go over very well with the boss's wife at the company Christmas party, no matter how much eggnog she's consumed.

I'm talking about a big, terrible, life-altering mistake; the kind where you lie awake at night churning over every detail, wondering how you ever got yourself into such an awful spot.

"Why did I ever marry a recovering alcoholic with three teenage boys?"

"What possessed me to invest my life savings in a business that makes giant Styrofoam pumpkins?"

"Why did I think that 'transitional neighborhood' meant economic opportunity and 'fixer upper' meant great family project?"

Rare is the human being who lives life without any regrets. Most of us bunglers make numerous errors and often spend hours on end ruminating about our mess-ups.

As best I can tell, most mistakes fall into one of three categories:

1. Bloopers and blunders - Mildly humiliating, these goofs and gaffes are painful for us, but they're a mere blip on everyone else's radar. You may still cringe at the memory of the time you gave the big 37-slide presentation for the senior management team with a nine-inch trail of toilet paper dragging behind your left shoe, but most of your colleagues have forgotten the entire meeting altogether.

2. Mendable Missteps - Although often costly, these common errors in judgment are usually recoverable. Your in-laws might not have liked the fact that you announced your atheism over Thanksgiving dinner with their pastor but, if you apologize enough for the next 10 years, they may eventually write you back into their will. And, while painting your house flamingo pink may not have been the best aesthetic decision you ever made, a few thousand bucks can fix it.

3. Crash and Burn - These are the biggies that require more than a checkbook or a mea culpa to mend. Maybe it's a cross-country move for a job you wind up hating, a marriage made in haste or a bad business decision that sucks your retirement savings down the tube. As you stew over the series of events that led you to this awful spot, you feel sick at your own stupidity and wonder why you missed the warning signs.

The bloopers and missteps are common staples of human life. The faster you put your ego aside and do the right thing, the quicker you'll move on. But how do you cope with a crash and burn when you've already made the move, exchanged the rings or written the check?

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want in, or you want out. Nothing sucks the life out of you faster than spending eight hours a night tossing and turning second-guessing something you've already done. As tempting as it is to wallow in your misery, businesses, marriages and homes never work when you stay on the sidelines wondering if you want to be there.

If you're not sure whether it's time to fish or cut bait, give yourself a deadline. Calculate up the costs - financial and emotional - of staying in vs. getting out, determine the worst case scenario of each option, and then decide which side of the fence you're on. If you want out, then get yourself out, even if it's painful and costly. But if you decide to stay in, quit waffling and give it everything you've got. Bad hair do's grows out and ugly cars can be traded in.

But wasting your time tormenting yourself with the "woulda, coulda, shoulda's", is the biggest mistake you'll ever make.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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