There is no phrase in the world I hate hearing more than, “I told you so.” It’s awful! It’s like nails on a chalkboard when I hear the phrase. I want to be good and smart and perfect, so the thought of someone pointing out how wrong I was and how right they are makes me want to scream. I will do anything I can to avoid hearing “I told you so.” I know it’s petty and immature, but hearing someone criticize me just makes me want to lash out in return.
The fear of someone telling me “I told you so!” can make me:
- Cover up my mistakes
- Blame other people or other things for my mistakes
- Look for excuses
On the other hand, owning my mistakes and admitting I was wrong empowers me to:
- Connect with others
I don’t want to make excuses and blame others. I want to learn, grow and connect. So how do I do that? Maybe I can look at a recent American tragedy for some insight.
After the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, there was a flood of emotional responses from people across the country. Within hours of the shooting, people were already finding things to blame. Citizens were asking, “why did this happen?” There was no shortage of opinions. Some people screamed about the need for gun control and blamed the horror on easy access to guns. Other people shouted about mental health and yelled at their neighbors to stop making things political.
Amid the chaos, there was one man who decided not to point a finger outward. Caleb Keeter, guitarist for the Josh Abbott band, was there – he had been in mortal danger – and in the aftermath, he realized that he had learned something. Previously a stanch supporter of the 2nd amendment, after the shooting he went on Twitter to write, “Until the events of last night, I cannot express how wrong I was.” He continued on to plead for the immediate need for gun control, and reiterated his regret for not realizing the severity of the issue beforehand.
He was brave enough to say he was wrong. He was courageous enough to say that things needed to change, and that he was willing to help make the changes that were needed. He had faced literal fire, and was willing to face the fire of public shame by admitting he was wrong. That is powerful. That is inspiring.
Whether you agree with Caleb Keeter is not the point. The point is that Keeter put aside his need to be right to consider an alternative viewpoint that may help him and others in the future.
It’s important to consider what made Keeter speak out. He didn’t make this change of heart because someone told him how wrong he was. It wasn’t a cleverly worded essay that made him change his mind, or a cute meme, or a sign at a rally. He made the decision. He was the one to say, “I was wrong.” That’s what made all the difference in this situation.
If we want the world to change, we need to be able to admit we are wrong sometimes.
Simple to say, but really hard to do.
It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve done something wrong or that I’m flawed in some way. I’m a recovering perfectionist, after all! Earning all A’s and achieving perfect 10’s on my employee evaluations have been badges of honor for me in the past. Yet, clinging to unattainable standards of perfection has prevented me from reaching my highest potential. Refusing to say, “I was wrong,” has undoubtedly held me back.
Let’s take my alcohol consumption, for example. For many years, I’ve known that drinking too much wine kept me from achieving the things I wanted to achieve in my life. Yet, I was embarrassed and afraid to admit that my habit was a bad one. There were even people that brought it to my attention and suggested that maybe I needed help. Instead of saying, “You’re right. I drink too much and I should cut it out,” I rationalized my drinking and made excuses. Other people pointing out my flaws only made me more determined to show that I didn’t have a problem at all. I told myself that I worked hard and deserved a glass of wine at night to decompress. I told other people that I was just doing what every other busy, stressed out mom in America did. I told myself that everything was okay and that I was fine. I said these things for quite some time. Then one day, I decided I wanted a better life, and I finally got a little bit brave. I found a morsel of courage to say, “My drinking is getting worrisome and I don’t want to live like this anymore.” I said, “This is wrong. I am going to do better.”
Admitting I was wrong was possibly the most empowering thing I’ve ever done in my 40 years on this planet. It allowed me to let go of the destructive habit I was holding onto and learn from the mistakes I made. It gave me a chance to clean up the damage I’d done to myself, to my family, my coworkers and friends. It quite honestly gave me a new life, a better life, an honest and authentic life in which my imperfections have quite unexpectedly allowed me to grow, go after my dreams, experience joy and peace, and connect with my friends and family on a level I never dreamed possible. It all happened because I was willing to admit that I was not perfect. In fact, I was wrong.
I didn’t make a change in my life because someone told me I was wrong. The insults, the criticisms and the suggestions of other people did nothing to inspire me to change – in fact, they only made me cling more to my destructive behaviors and retreat more into excuses. I made true and lasting changes to my life when I admitted I was wrong. It came from inside me.
We cannot fix things unless we are willing to admit that things are broken.
We cannot learn unless we can say we don’t know everything.
We cannot grow until we are able to admit we are sometimes wrong.
Dr. Wayne Dyer often said, “You must have a mind open to everything and attached to nothing.” I know I, for one, always thought I had an open mind, but when I honestly look back at my behavior and attitudes I see that I most certainly did not. I’ve often clung to outdated ideas and opinions because I wanted to save face and look consistent. I wanted to stand up for my beliefs, so I refused to hear people with different voices offering alternative perspectives.
We like to say that no one likes change, but I don’t think that’s true. If we want to change and are willing to do so, change is the easiest and most beautiful thing in the world. It’s when other people try to change us that we bristle. It’s when someone tells us, “See! I told you so! You were wrong!” that we shut down, put our defenses up and refuse to change.
There is no power at all in pointing fingers outward and saying, “You were wrong.”
There is tremendous power in looking inward and saying, “I was wrong.”
It’s very easy to look at what other people are doing wrong. It’s another thing entirely to look at one’s own self and find things that need to be changed, or areas of improvement, or simply things that need a little more information and education.
Asking (or even demanding) that others change, and pointing out their flaws, will never work. No one has ever inspired change by telling someone else that they are wrong. If we want real, lasting change in this world we have to look in the mirror.
If you believe that criticizing other people and demanding that they change something so that you may have a better life, I’m asking you today to reconsider that attitude. You have no power to change other people. On the other hand, you have a remarkable ability to improve your life by changing yourself. I know this is true because I’ve done it myself.
We have real problems in the world, to be sure. Many people close to me have been asking how they can make things better. Most of the solutions I’ve seen involve finger-pointing and blaming. I feel the frustration, too. I feel helpless at times, and I want things to change. But I know, deep in my soul, that finger-pointing and blame is not only useless but counterproductive. Change doesn’t start by telling other people they are wrong. Change happens inside our own hearts, it continues when we start to change our behavior, and it trickles into the world because of the things we, personally, do every single day.
We are more powerful than we imagine. We can make a difference. We can make the world a better place by making ourselves better people.
We can’t hear when we’re screaming. Let’s open our ears, learn from each other, and figure out how we can change the world – by fixing ourselves.