When I was eight-years-old, my friend Michelle and I ran home from school every day to watch Dark Shadows (yesterday’s version of The Walking Dead.) It was a horror soap opera filled with werewolves, vampires, and witches.

One Friday the show ended with a shocking cliffhanger. I could hardly wait until Monday to see what happens.  But Monday was the one day of the week I couldn’t watch my show. I begged my mom, “Please, you’ve got to let me skip catechism to see my show.” My mom said there was no way in heaven or on earth that she’d allow me to skip a religion education class to watch a show full of evil characters. I was devastated.

On Monday I walked from school to church. Michelle walked along side me. “I can’t wait to get home and watch Dark Shadows,” she said. It wasn’t fair. Why did she get to see the show? Why did I have to be Catholic? Why couldn’t I be Baptist like her? Then, my religion class would be on Saturday and I wouldn’t have to miss the show.

“Michelle, I have a great idea,” I said. “You should come to catechism with me. It will be a lot of fun.” Okay, I admit it, catechism, in 1967, wasn’t fun. In fact, it was sometimes scarier than Dark Shadows. I don’t know what came over me. I never lied to my friend before, but I couldn’t stand the idea of her watching that show without me. Besides, I figured, if she came to catechism, it would be more fun than if she didn’t. Michelle said, “Yes.” I think maybe she was just a little too scared to watch the cliffhanger ending alone.

“Are you sure it’s okay for me to go with you?” she asked. “Yes,” I said.  “But I’m not catholic. They might not let me in without being catholic,” she said. “Maybe we can just tell them you’re catholic,” I said. It didn’t occur to me, that maybe it’s not a good idea to lie to the nuns. Michelle said, “Won’t they wonder why I don’t come to catechism every week?” “Don’t worry about it Michele. Let’s just tell them you’re visiting.” I said. Then, Michelle had an idea, “I know. You can tell them I’m your cousin from out of town.” Michelle was brilliant. How did she think of such a great idea?

We were bubbling with excitement. While walking into class, Michelle said, “Let’s tell everyone my name is Stephanie Jones.” This was so fun.  I didn’t feel bad about missing my show anymore.

We walked into the classroom. I introduced Michelle, I mean, Stephanie, to the nun, Sister Mary-Margaret and we sat down. She started class by introducing Stephanie, and invited her to write her name on the chalkboard for everyone. As she walked to the front of the room, I heard the hushed voice of a kid behind me saying, “Isn’t that Michelle?”

Up until this moment, life felt good, much like how a dear feels leaping into the road before seeing the headlights. Michelle went to the chalkboard and wrote an “S” and “t” and then she froze. “I don’t know how to spell Stephanie,” she said.  She stretched for an excuse, “I usually go by my middle name, Michelle.”

Waves of panic spread through me. Getting in trouble at catechism was something to fear. Sister Mary Margaret shot Michelle a wicked look, but said nothing.  I started praying.

As class continued, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe we’d get out of here alive after all. We started a class activity. Going up and down the rows, each child was to stand up and recite a line from the Lord’s Prayer, in order. Michelle turned around in her seat, and whispered, “I don’t know the words.” I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll whisper them in your ear before it’s your turn.”

There were four rows before ours, so Michelle had plenty of time to get familiar with the words. When our row began, I whispered Michelle’s line in her ear, “Hallowed be thy name.” “What?” Michelle asked. I repeated, “Hallowed be thy name.” “Got it,” she whispered. The girl in front of Michelle stood up and said, “Our Father who art in heaven,”

Now, it was Michelle’s turn. She stood up tall, and in a confident voice said, “HALLELUJAH be thy name.”

The class exploded with laughter. I laughed too. Then, in a flash, my whole world changed. I looked at Michelle’s face. I had never seen a face so beet red. Her embarrassment was so intense, I could feel it in my bones.

Time stood still, as I relived in vivid detail each decision I made that lead to this moment. For the first time in my life, I had a clear understanding that my actions influence my results. I longed to erase away Michelle’s pain, along with this whole afternoon. I didn’t have the vocabulary to use the word integrity, but the word’s definition is what I decided I wanted from myself. And I knew it was up to me to make that happen. I felt an odd sense of exhilaration, as if a monumental insight had just been bestowed upon me.

Time started up again. Sister Mary Margaret shushed the class and said, “I want to see Marilyn and her guest after class.”

What happened after class? It was a blur. I vaguely remember yelling and phone calls being made, but I was so immersed in my new found thoughts, that everything else fell away.

Experience is powerful teacher. It’s comforting to remember that one’s character isn’t flawed for making mistakes; character is formed by the lessons learned from mistakes.

What do you do when you mess up? Do you criticize, condemn, and punish yourself? Do you hide from or deny your mistakes? After spending over a year interviewing successful companies to find out what they do differently, I discovered that truly great leaders view mistakes as tuition toward their education and a form of accelerated learning. Instead of letting mistakes cast dark shadows on your life, let them shed new light on who you want to be, and what you’re going to do from this point forward.

I welcome your comments!

 Photo credit Pixomar at FreeDigitalPhotos.net