Never heard that acronym before? Trust me, it’s very useful. I cannot remember who taught me the phrase or in what context, but in the years since I heard it I’ve had more of them than I care to count. I wish I could say I’m done with them, but the chances are I never will be. AFOTLAG stands for Another Fucking Opportunity To Learn And Grow.
It’s the cousin to “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.” Yeah, that one’s no fun either. I suppose it’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be something that brings you to… whatever is next in your life. And the extra tricky part about it (“it” being the opportunity) is if you don’t take the time to learn and grow, chances are good that whatever went wrong is going to happen again – and again – until you learn what you need and move forward. Basically, it boils down to “what do I need to learn from this mistake.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s important. Learning from our mistakes is one of the things that matures us, makes us more… grown up. We look at a situation, usually one that’s gone wrong, try to see the blunders we made and plan to do better. It’s not a bad thing, but it does seem like it’s exhausting and never-ending, doesn’t it?
As I write this, I find myself thinking… do we forget to stop and do this for the situations where things went right? When something is successful and we made little to no missteps, or we were able to correct quickly and get back on track, once we reach that goal do we stop and look at the process and say – okay, this is what I did right here, and this is what worked here, and this is what I should definitely do again in the future.
I don’t think so.
Truthfully, I can’t remember a time I ever did that, at least not regularly. Isn’t that sad? I definitely spend more time beating myself up over what didn’t go well than I ever spend on noticing what did so that I can repeat those actions. Even when I worked in the traditional workforce after a project came to an end, we’d briefly discuss what went well but most of the time and focus was on where things could have been done better. It’s drummed into us as the way things are done. Good job? Congrats and move on. Bad job? Let’s pull this apart piece by piece and analyze every little bit of it.
We may be doing things backward. Or at least, not balanced.
Let’s look at an easy and common one – managing weight. This has been a challenge for me for most of my life. Since I was about 14 I have been heavier than is considered optimal. Currently, I am in Weight Watchers and for the first time in years I am following the plan and (lo and behold) losing weight. It’s still slow because I do indulge a little more than I should (AAH danger word) each week, but you get the point. Now, on weeks when I don’t lose or I gain weight you can imagine the noise and conversation in my head – You knew not to eat…. See, this is what happens when you don’t…. Next week you have to remember to…and so on.
But on the weeks when I’ve lost weight, I barely do this if at all. I don’t stop and look back and say, Great job you planned for…. It really worked when you….. You should be proud of yourself for…. I’m starting to think this is something I want to change, something we all should consider if you’re not already doing it. It’s similar to when we’re asked if we talk to ourselves the way we would talk to our friends or our children. Most of us – and I definitely do this – are tremendously harsh on ourselves without balancing this with any sort of loving words of self-kindness. Maybe that’s why success feels so fleeting while hardships take such a terrible toll.
Oh, look, a learning opportunity in the midst of the other one I’m having. Isn’t that cool? (Yeah, that might be a little sarcastic. All this learning is exhausting).
I think I’m doing learning and accepting what I need to with my current situation opportunity. There have been some hard and painful lessons in this process and many tears of both grief and anger have been shed. At some point I’ll be on the other side of it, moving forward and on with my life. And you know what’s going to happen… I’m just going to live into the next opportunity.
Yes, my friends, one of the joys of life is there is always another AFOTLAG coming down the highway. We don’t know where and we don’t know when, but I can guarantee it’s on its way.
Which is why I think creating a new balance is important. I have definitely felt off-kilter and jittery these last few weeks, noticing all over the place where I have screwed up and keeping a list in my head. (Have you ever experienced that? Focusing on one mistake/failure makes you see tons more? No? That’s just me?) I really want to make a shift to carry forward. I am going to try to take time to look at the things that are going well and learn from them as well. Take as much time with the successes – maybe more if I’m smart – whether they are small daily achievements or I’m getting closer to longer-term goals to cheer myself on.
Because as others have said – it may not be fun to learn from our mistakes, but it’s better than not learning.