Q: I have a problem that doesn’t ever seem to go away, and I am feeling very low because of it. Two years ago my career got all messed up because of a silly mistake I made. I don’t know what I can do to change things. Can you help?

You don’t go into the details about what you did to make you feel that ‘your career got all messed up’. What is important to acknowledge from the outset, though, is that you say ‘you’ made a silly mistake. The fact you point this out yourself, you ‘own it’ as the term goes, is important. That stands for something in my book.

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So, how can you change things? Well, you can’t change the past. What’s done is done. The flip side of ‘changing things’ is how you plan to move on from what occurred. Two years is a long time in some professions and less so in others, but regardless, there are always ways and means to get back on track.

I suppose most people understand the concept of a workplace ‘mistake and punishment scale’. For argument’s sake, we might put doctors and airline pilots somewhere near the top! Assuming you’re not one of these, if you were asked how seriously you should be punished for your own error of judgement, would you be far harsher on yourself than others might actually be? This is a natural human instinct. It was your professional reputation that was called into question; it was your spotlight moment (for the wrong reasons), and they were your own personal consequences to bear.

I’m not surprised you’ve been left feeling low. But in reality I imagine that most people probably don’t consider the issue to be anywhere near as serious or long-lived as you do. They’ll be so focused on what they’re up to, your own misdemeanour probably no longer registers on their radar. People move on and it may be that what happened will be (very) old news.

I feel you need to lay a few ghosts to rest, by testing the water again. It could be that you start to rebuild, it could be that this was a career-ending mistake, but you’ll never know unless you find out. Take some advice. There are plenty of people who could help you understand your position and give you the guidance you need.

Should it become apparent your mistake was career-ending, then you need to consider a new path entirely. Mistakes can often be the launchpad for some great ideas. ‘Forced re-evaluation’ can be then a catalyst for change you’d never even considered before.

Whatever you decide to do, please try not to continue along the path of self-punishment. Carrying your own personal black cloud above your head will wear you down unless you step out from under it. We are human. We make mistakes and we atone for them. Try not to let it define the rest of your life.

Finally, my own personal mantra — mistakes are lessons in life and none of us should ever stop learning.

Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. russellhemmings.co.uk.