My Proudest Achievement: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 15 September 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about learning to admit that I am wrong. Listen in here.

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I remember the night I sat across the table from my friend Mark, with a notebook in front of me. In the notebook, a long list I’d been making for weeks. Mark and I’d met in an addiction recovery group. And I was at a crucial place in the recovery process, which suggested that I make a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself – and then admit it to another person.

Mark said, “why don’t you open the notebook and start by sharing the things you’re scared to death of telling me?”

The thing is, I was scared to death of the whole list! Some people’s proudest achievements involve conquering their fear by climbing a mountain or running a marathon. For me, it was jumping out of an airplane into sobriety and hoping that the parachute would open.

Now, I trusted Mark – he’d been there before, on the other side of the table – so I took a deep breath and jumped. I went through every item on that list: every resentment and my part in it, every story, every offence and failure. I surveyed the inner wreckage of my life – and to the best of my ability, I described the exact nature of my wrongs.

It is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had – coming clean about everything, having it held by Mark with compassion, looking at it all with a liberating honesty. Later on, the recovery process suggested I make another list – of people I’d hurt – and that I try to make amends and put it right.

It’s weird, I know, to name this as my proudest achievement. It’s not something you’d normally put in a trophy case or on your resume of accomplishments! It’s not really even an achievement ­­– it’s less something I did and more something other people helped me into.

Still, it’s the truth. Honestly. My proudest achievement is that, quite well into adulthood, I started learning how to say: “I was wrong”.

And not just to say I was wrong, but I am wrong, because in my life, at least, there’s still plenty of daily material to confess.

In my opinion, the world would be better if we all tried this, people of faith, agnostics and atheists all together. Instead of signaling our amazingness all the time, can you imagine if prime ministers and presidents and all of us started with: “You know what I struggle with? Or “let me tell you about a time recently that I was wrong.”

We could all be proud of that.

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