Owning My Mistakes and Nobody Else’s

A couple of years ago when I was getting ready to move to Jarabacoa from San Pedro I was offered a job managing a hostel. I figured that in addition to moving to a new city I might as well try something new in my career, so I decided to take a year off teaching to manage a hostel. Because why not, right? Plus, in committing to just one year at the hostel, I was freed up to do another full YouthWorks summer before either returning to the hostel or getting a teaching job at a local school (which is what I ended up doing).

Becoming a hostel manager at the age of 26 was my first experience doing a job that wasn’t directly related to children. I had been a babysitter and worked at a daycare. I had interned with a youth group and worked with high schoolers in my positions with YouthWorks. So managing a hostel was new to me. Plus, I was the first person to do most of the work I was doing besides the owner, so there was a huge learning (and teaching) curve for both of us. Oh and I pretty much worked 24/7.

Most of the things I had done in my life up until that point had come pretty easily to me. I’d never struggled to succeed in school, teaching came naturally to me, college was great, and even moving to the Dominican Republic was a pretty painless transition. I’m oversimplifying for the sake of comparison, because obviously moving to a foreign country 3 months after graduating from college is crazy and because looking back I can see how difficult it was for me to be vulnerable and be a good friend, but overall my life has been pretty cushy.

Some of the responsibilities I had at the hostel did not come easily to me and they were hard. Like having to make business calls in my second language. Or having to ask people repeatedly to pay the money they owed. Or having to make a bunch of beds and do laundry and answer the phones and receive guests during that terrible time when we only had one part time housekeeper.

But, I tried my hardest and did my best and learned a lot. Overall, I am proud of the job I did as a hostel manager. I was timely and professional and helpful. I was upbeat and positive and on top of things. My boss was pleased, as well, and I probably set a record for number of raises received in an 11 month period. But the end of my time at the hostel I was making almost twice as much as I was at the beginning. My boss made it very clear that my work was more than acceptable and appreciated.

And yet none of that hard work or appreciated kept a small number of guests from having terrible times in the hostel. One guest in particular blamed me for him taking his room key with him. Somehow the fact that he didn’t turn in his key was my fault. I think he even called me out by name in his grumpy review of the hostel.

Some people refuse to hear negative feedback about themselves. Some people struggle with blaming others for their own mistakes. Some people get very defensive when someone calls them out. And some people – people like me – often don’t need others to point out their mistakes because those people – read: ME – already know every mistake they’ve made and have been obsessing about those mistakes all day. Some people are constantly on the precipice of a downward spiral that ends with a big sign that says, “Give up because you are a failure!” and just one mistake shoves us over the edge and downward.

For people like that, people like me, people like us, hearing a grumpy guest blame me for having lost his key put me close to that downward spiral edge. I thought back to every interaction I had had with the guy (which were few, because of the grumpiness) and to how I could have done or said things differently and better so that he could have had a better stay in our hostel and turned in his dang room key. If only I had reminded him to turn in his room key! Then maybe he would have given the hostel a 5 star rating!

But here’s the thing. Some people are just grumpy. And also, hurting people hurt people. And also, I’m only in charge of me. And also, you can’t go back in time and fix anything. You can only apologize when you need to and move forward to do better next time.

These are the things I am learning in new and big and deep ways in 2018.

Recently someone said some things about me – about me being mean and a bully – that shoved me right up to the edge of that downward spiral. I thought back to every interaction I had had with these people and how I could have said or done things differently or better and… I came up empty. Because I’m not mean and I’m not a bully. I didn’t have anything to apologize for. I took their criticism, I searched my heart, and came back with empty hands.

So instead of getting frustrated with myself, or even the people calling me a mean bully who shouldn’t work with kids, I went back to the first two things. Some people are grumpy because hurting people hurt people and isn’t that sad? I am only in charge of me. Which does mean that I am in charge of how what I say and do affects other people. Even when how what I say or do makes someone feel differently than I intended – I’m still in charge of that. So when someone says, “Hey, you did this and it sucked,” I am ready, able, and willing to look back, search my heart, and apologize when it’s appropriate. Which it usually is. I am far from perfect.

But when I said and did exactly what I was supposed to do in a situation, when my intentions were love and doing my best and then someone tries to blame their own grumpy hurting on me when I’ve done nothing wrong? Then I take a step back from that downward spiral and just feel sad for that poor grumpy person who couldn’t say, “Whoops! I forgot my turn in my room key! My bad!” but instead felt the need to lash out against me.

I also feel empowered, because I can take it, you know? I know who I am and I know that I am the kind of person who owns up to her mistakes, but I’m not owning up to others’ mistakes, too. I’ve got enough of my own.

Con cuidado y amor,

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