From launching a new product that is dead on arrival, landing a big client who turns into an energy vampire, flubbing an important presentation to overcalling a forecast, we’ve all made mistakes at work. Some are easy to correct, while others can create permanent damage. However, once you take accountability for what happened and try to correct it, another important step needs to happen – forgiving yourself.
Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the transformative book The Four Agreements, once said, “The supreme act of forgiveness is when you can forgive yourself for all the wounds you’ve created in your own life. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When you forgive yourself, self-acceptance begins and self-love grows.”
His beautiful sentiment is true. Sometimes, the hardest person to forgive is yourself. But it is necessary to heal and make amends with others. Just ask Richard Bistrong.
He worked as the Vice President of International Sales for a large global manufacturer, traveling around the world selling products like armored vehicles and vests, riot control equipment and munitions to public officials, often through intermediary parties. Before assuming his international role, Bistrong signed off that he would abide by a U.S. law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which states that you cannot bribe a foreign official to either win business or to even keep business. But after witnessing how commonplace bribery was in international business, and thinking it was not possible to compete unless he “played it safe” by participating in corrupt transactions, Bistrong rationalized it away. He considered himself safe and successful – until 2007, when Bistrong was identified in a large United Nations bribery investigation.
That investigation contributed to Bistrong losing his job and he soon became the target of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. However, he had just gotten sober following a three-year drug addiction, giving him much-need clarity about facing the consequences of his conduct. Bistrong became an undercover co-operator, then a cooperating witness, and eventually served fourteen and a half months in prison.
“Cheating was a choice, so I’m always very clear to embrace the actions that I took, and the decisions that I made which I ultimately went to prison for,” notes Bistrong. “If you googled me the day I got released in December 2013, it was not pretty. Stories focused on how I was an undercover cooperator in what ended up being a failed government sting operation. There was reporting on my drug addiction and lifestyle. It was just bad and ugly.”
Initially the government said Bistrong couldn’t read anything about foreign bribery or compliance in case he had to testify as a cooperating witness. But in digging into the field after his release, which has no shortage of well experienced lawyers, auditors, forensics practioners and advisory firms, he realized that no one was talking about foreign bribery from the commercial perspective. Bistrong recognized an opportunity to possibly have his journey inspire compliance solutions for those who face similar challenges, specifically by sharing his story with the ethics and compliance community.
He wrote about his experiences, being upfront that breaking the law was no one’s fault but his own. In 2014, compliance and ethics symposiums started inviting Bistrong to speak, which then led to his being asked to address commercial, compliance and leadership teams at multinationals. His live presentations were initially in the United States. In 2017, Bistrong’s passport was returned after he finished probation, allowing him to speak internationally, often in the parts of the world where commercial teams face corruption risk in their achieving their commercial objectives. Today he helps organizations identify conflicting internal messages between the pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply, and presents via keynotes and workshops, all to increase sensitivity and awareness about the commercial mindset, and to help organizations build real-world behavioral and third party risk into their business and compliance practices.
Bistrong compares forgiveness to cycling uphill. “Forgiving yourself should not be easy,” he explained. “You must be transparent and embrace what you did. It should be a struggle filled with humility. Avoid minimizing what happened and the consequences. Getting sentenced to prison helped me with forgiveness because I felt like there was finality to it. Sharing my story with organizations keeps what happened alive in a way that I won’t forget, and it and makes it very personal.”
Need some help in forgiving yourself? Lifestyle and leadership coach Takeyah Young provided some insight on that process. “Energy can either be created or destroyed,” she said. “To move forward with positive energy and experiences, you need to shift the negative energy currently taking up space by making a conscious effort.” Her tips include:
- Go deep to actively decide if you want to pursue forgiveness. Tap into what lies at the core of your desires and values. With your true desire in mind, determine if forgiving yourself will serve you or not.
- Plan how to move forward in forgiveness. For some people, taking physical action makes a difference. Write down the challenges that require forgiveness on a piece of paper that you can then release by burning or shredding the sheet.
- Consider a spiritual release, with the help of a counselor, religious support resource or on your own. Through conversation, journaling or a spiritual ceremony, own your feelings and give voice to them outside of your head. Make a conscious decision to express what upsets you, release it and then identify what you want to embrace in its place.
How have you forgiven yourself for past mistakes, failures or transgressions? What did the act of self-forgiveness bring you?