A little after one am on January 4, 2020, our puppy Quinn needed to have one final trip outside before heading to bed. As I settled under the covers, Joe called for help. The intensity of his voice indicated I needed to move quickly, so I hurried down the hall, anxious, unsure of what I would find.
My nose registered the event first; Quinn had been sprayed by a skunk! It was the most intense, potent and truly repulsive smell I had ever encountered. Not an inch of her missed getting sprayed, so we determined we should start with a preliminary bath outside. I gloved up and met them in the driveway, where our girl got the first of several baths that morning. By the time we were done and ready to move her to the bathtub, we were all very wet, very cold and very stressed.
Over the course of the next few weeks, she got many (many, many) more baths. We tried every single product, home remedy, potion or concoction we could find to battle the smell. Unfortunately, our best efforts weren’t able to eradicate the odor that I grew quickly to despise.
It’s been almost six months since she had that fateful encountered with the striped night fiend, but the smell continues to linger… ever so slightly. She’s had the kind of scrubbing that could take the hide off a rhino, but the smell, although faint, is still there. It’s reactivated when she is bathed (Oh, wicked irony!) or we walk in the rain, but it serves as a reminder that something bad occurred on the first Saturday morning of the new year. (In retrospect, it seems a little prophetic given how 2020 has progressed, but that’s for another time).
Last week, I was snuggling her and I realized that her “skunk spot” is akin to what happens to us (as humans) when we make a mistake or experience failure…
The event or experience begins as a sort of flashpoint, where we rush in to determine how to proceed and our best efforts are usually only about damage control. We do everything possible to “clean things up” – we make amends, offer apologies, whatever we can to remedy the situation. Eventually, the experience is dulled, but it’s always there, lurking, waiting to be discovered again, either through memory, repeated as an example, or the catalyst for an awkward interaction.
Or at least, that’s the way we experience it. At one point, I mentioned to Joe that I was surprised the smell was still there. He no longer noticed it, so he inquired if it wasn’t just my imagination. I had an independent party (Kerri) check it out and she confirmed the continued presence of the smell. But the question is still valid – sometimes we ARE the only ones hanging onto something, while others have moved on, we haven’t, so we remain painfully aware of the event.
So what can we do to get free of the stench of failure?
- Give yourself some grace. No one fails on purpose, but everyone fails. It’s one of the things that makes us so wonderfully human.
- Insure you have done everything possible to rectify the mistake or correct the failure. In some cases, that’s simply owning it, while in others, it’s an extensive list of actions you had to take. In the event that others have been impacted, have you made genuine apologies and done what you can to restore the relationship?
- Ask yourself what you learned from the situation and what you can/will do so it (or something similar) doesn’t happen again. You may need some help for this, as it can be easy to be self-critical and get stuck. No lesson is ever wasted if there’s learning and application.
- Remind yourself of all the successes you have had (before and after) this moment. You have so much good to offer and one event doesn’t have to define a whole life/career/relationship. You may need help for this as well, sometimes we forget what is good or special about us and we need others to help us see clearly.
- Know you are going to be okay, because you will.
If you have done all of those things and you seem to be the only one who “smells” the skunk, check in with someone you trust, who is familiar with the situation. It’s likely you are the one most sensitive about whatever occurred and are having a harder time moving on than you have to. Sometimes our own thoughts simply aren’t our best allies. Getting external perspective can be helpful for getting out of your head and into truth. Remember that you TRIED and that’s always something. Respond to failure with optimism; move forward and move on.
While I won’t be disappointed if we never have another skunk interaction, I would hate to forget the lesson the event brought. All smells; mistakes, failures and disappointments will eventually fade, but they don’t define us, and that realization produces the sweetest scent of all.