First, a tremendous thank you to everyone who completed/entered A Wish Come Clear’s first survey + giveaway! I’m thrilled to announce the winner of our contest:  Veronique, a woman who has a son with disabilities. Here’s her response to question 10 (What would your life look like if you felt supported in every area?):  “My life would be harmonious and become I would feel balanced and less tense; those around me would benefit as well.” The simplicity and compassion in her response spoke out to me, and reminded me that the work we do for ourselves benefits those we love as well.

Again, many thanks to everyone who contributed + entered!


I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid screw-ups whenever possible. I prefer the on-time, on-target, exceeds-expectations way of living life. I like it when everyone gets along and agrees. I appreciate a well-timed, well-executed schedule. Miscommunications, mistakes and messiness? No, thank you.

Perfectionistic? Unrealistic? Oh, absolutely. But this is how I roll.

That said, last week was a real stretch for me.

On Monday alone, I faced:

  • a full days’ work, with all the minor crises that entails
  • an unexpected sub-in on an evening routine at L’Arche (after aforementioned full days’ work)
  • an unfortunate mistake (mine) involving the move-in date for our new apartment, which necessitated negotiating with our (very kind) current landlord so we wouldn’t be homeless
  • challenging words from a friend, who was struggling with something I’d written online

If I had known that by Friday I’d be racing to the ER to be with my husband, who was unexpectedly diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg…I would not have worried about any of it. (Thankfully, he’s home and doing well.) But I didn’t know about the life-and-death scenario awaiting us. All I knew was:  it’s hard feeling like you’ve screwed up. And it’s even harder when it’s Monday and you have PMS.

Not surprisingly, I was undone by 5pm. I needed to leave for evening routine, but first I curled into a fetal position and let the tears fall. My husband held me. I said, “I hate feeling like I screwed up! I hate being called on at the last minute! I like to PLAN for these things! I wish…I need…”

I had no idea what I needed.

And suddenly I was picturing my brother, Willie. I was seeing him erase his mistakes so thoroughly that he wore out his homework pages. I was seeing him unravel his socks because he can’t stand the sight and feel of a tiny hole. Most of all, I was seeing the laminated sign my parents have posted for him on their refrigerator, the sign that says, “Oops! No big deal.”

The sign is there to help him when he starts to freak out about making a mistake. I used to think this was funny, that my darling neurotic of a brother needed an actual sign.

This struck me as hilarious, given my current predicament. I laughed through my tears, and the laughter was an active letting go. I thought, “God! I’m just like him. We’re cut from the same cloth. Two of a kind.”

“I need a sign!” I said to my husband. “Like the one Willie has!”

“The one that says, ‘Oops, No big deal?'” he asked.

“Exactly,” I said. “I need it, like, yesterday.”

“If you need one, I’ll make one,” my husband replied.

Make yourself a sign. It might say, “Oops, No big deal!” or “Live and learn,” or “I did the best I could with what I had.” There is wisdom in being kind to yourself. The next time you make a mistake, look at the sign. Admit your mistake, let out the hurt and then do your best to move on and move forward.

As Anne Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies, “A woman I know says for her morning prayer, ‘Whatever’ and for her evening, ‘Oh well.'” When I first read this, I thought it was a bit, shall we say, flippant. Now I see that it’s about surrender, the sweetness of admitting that you can’t control much of anything except yourself. It’s about surrender with whatever words come naturally to you.

When you let go and forgive yourself, your hands are open. And only open hands can receive.

Once I hit rock bottom and let go of my own failure that day, I received a beautiful gift:  the feeling of being connected to my brother, the feeling of being human in the very same way as him.

It reminds me of something that my friend Cassandra* once said. When she was asked, “What hurts you?” she replied, “Well. When people I love die. And. Not being able to do things right.”

Not being able to do things right does hurt. For Cassandra to admit that was an act of courage. But she ordered her sentence well, because the pain of not doing things right is an afterthought compared to losing someone you love.

If I had known that my husband had a blood clot as he was comforting me, none of the mistakes and fears I struggled with would have mattered one bit.

Nothing would have mattered except that I was being held.


If you were to make a sign for yourself to help you in owning your mistakes, what would it say? Tell me in the comments!

*Names have been changed.

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  1. Brooke (Books Distilled) June 20, 2011 at 12:54 PM - Reply

    Mine would be similar to your brother’s: IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. It’s funny how forgiving I am when others make mistakes, but I seem to think when I do it’s completely unacceptable…

    • Caroline McGraw June 20, 2011 at 1:08 PM - Reply

      Well said, B! May those words give us pause + grace when we’re about to hijack ourselves with perfectionist standards.

  2. Renee June 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM - Reply

    I really like your brother’s sign, “Oops! No big deal.” More often now, than in the past, I can let mistakes roll off of me fairly well once I’ve made amends. Where I run into trouble is when others don’t let it go. All I can do is apologize, learn from it and do my best to not make the mistake again. Intellectually I know that if the other party doesn’t want to let it go, it’s on them and doesn’t have to affect me, but frequently I obsess over the mistake because I feel so badly about hurting someone. Hmm…need a sign for that.

    • Caroline McGraw June 20, 2011 at 3:41 PM - Reply

      Great point, Renee! I also find it challenging to have peace when others “don’t let it go.” I agree that growth lies in somehow fusing our intellectual knowing (that we cannot choose forgiveness for another; they must choose it for themselves) with our deep compassion (not wanting to have hurt someone.) Perhaps it’s also about choosing compassion instead of obsession…perhaps that’s a new sign in the making. 😉

  3. Tara June 20, 2011 at 4:55 PM - Reply

    I love this: it’s about surrender, the sweetness of admitting that you can’t control much of anything except yourself.

    My sign would say: This moment is all that matters.

    I might borrow your brother’s sign as a back-up though. 🙂 A simple and fun reminder to stop letting life’s oops moments take away from the one before me… the one ripe with possibility if I chose to be mindful towards it.

    • Caroline McGraw June 20, 2011 at 5:17 PM - Reply

      Love that, Tara! I like how you tie in the idea of presence + possibility. 🙂

  4. donna June 20, 2011 at 7:03 PM - Reply

    Either, All shall be well, all shall be well, and all matter of things shall be well”, or “Everything will work out in the end, if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end”.

  5. Tanya June 21, 2011 at 3:08 AM - Reply

    This song came to my mind immediately after reading your post. Take some time to listen and read and be reminded that He has promised to hold you and uphold you with His righteous right hand…through all your “oops”es and through all your suffering. Love you, Cari!

    • Caroline McGraw June 21, 2011 at 12:18 PM - Reply

      Very fitting, Tan. I heard this song long ago ~ thank you for making a connection. I love you too!

  6. Tanya June 21, 2011 at 3:09 AM - Reply

    and WOW to Taras sign…I am blown away at the power that reading that statement has on me…I’m going to use that, hope you don’t mind 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw June 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM - Reply

      🙂 I know, right? Tara’s the most consistently eloquent commenter!

  7. Catherine June 21, 2011 at 11:04 PM - Reply

    I’ve always been hard on myself but over the years, that is changing. When I get upitty with myself and my inability to do something right or handle a situation well, even grief, when I think that is fine for them but not for me, I remind myself that that is EGO and nothing more.

    That is my ego talking which is something we all possess but its how we let it control some situations that we must be aware of. Surrendering keeps our ego in check. IT humbles us. Ego is tricky and it can quietly take over if we are not aware of it. Even the kindest people have ego.

    My words; Let it go! Move forward.

    Thank you for that post.

    • Caroline McGraw June 22, 2011 at 2:31 AM - Reply

      Thank YOU, Catherine, for the connection between surrender + ego…and a great sign! “Let it go! Move forward,” indeed.

  8. sarah June 29, 2011 at 6:46 PM - Reply

    Mine would be, “LET GO. LET GOD………THERE ARE NO BIG DEALS”

  9. […] McGraw presents Owning Your Mistakes & The Wisdom Of The Oops posted at A wish come clear: how to see disability as opportunity. “I was seeing the laminated […]

  10. Niall Doherty October 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM - Reply

    Hey Caroline,

    I came across this recently (can’t recall where exactly) and think it would be perfect for a sign:

    I’d rather have ɑ life of “oh wells” than ɑ life of “what ifs.”

    Great post. Keep doing what you do 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw October 8, 2011 at 6:45 PM - Reply

      Niall, that’s brilliant! Love it. 🙂
      & thank you for the affirmation! It means a lot to me.

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