When I was in high school, I did something I am really ashamed about. To this day, I have trouble sharing the story.
My sophomore year, I stole a copy of my Latin II exam a few weeks before we were scheduled to take the test. It was the hardest class in school, and I was really worried about making it through.
I shared it with a few friends, but within days it had made its way around the whole class. It was only a matter of time before I got caught.
I was suspended. This meant I got a failing grade, which meant I had to go to summer school.
This wasn’t even the worst part. What stung for me most was being labeled as someone who steals and cheats.
I didn’t know how to tell my little brother Dave or older sister Ramesh, let alone face my classmates and teachers again.
I started convincing myself that my life was over (remember, this was high school).
I was lucky to have parents who knew me and knew that this lapse in judgement was not who I really was.
They reminded me that yes, I messed up, but this experience didn’t have to define me — if I was smart, it could help shape me.
I learned that we all make mistakes — moments when we stray from our personal moral code. When this happens, we can either spiral into shame and self-doubt, like I started to do all those years ago. Or, we can take responsibility for the error, try to understand where we went wrong, and consider what we could have done differently.
Reflecting on the moment allows you to grow from the mistake rather than define yourself by it. And if you are open to growing from bad experiences, you may end up in a better place than where you started.
P.S. I have made it a practice once a year to review my own personal values and method for staying on track. This month’s Integrity Guide is a great framework for doing that.
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