Have you ever done something you really regretted? If so, how did you fix it? Or is it still unresolved?

When I was a teenager, one of my first jobs was working for the supermarket chain Publix.  I am embarrassed to say that I took things that didn’t belong to me. While I was hired  as a nutritional sustenance structural engineer … technically a bag boy, I worked hard and was promoted to stocker within a few months. As fate would have it, I worked the soft drink aisle which was right across from the snack foods. One day, with little time for a break, I grabbed a bag of chips and put them in an empty box on my stock cart that I was taking into the back part of the store where the pallets of drinks were located. My intent was to put my stock cart up then pay for the chips when I finished my break (which I initially did). However, when I realized how easy it was to ‘take now and pay later’, I simply started “forgetting” to pay for the junk food I was regularly consuming. I repeated this ritual with some regularity the remaining six months of my Publix employment. It was too tempting and too easy.

Deep down, I knew what I was doing was wrong and I certainly wasn’t raised to take things without paying for them. Despite that, it became habit forming and a regular part of my work routine.

I eventually left my job at Publix and went to work at another grocery store for which I behaved in an honorable way. Yet, every time I went into any grocery store, I thought about what I had done and didn’t like how I felt.

In Florida, reminders of Publix were all around me. I attended Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida which was the headquarters for Publix. The Publix family name was all over the campus.

Every time I shopped at Publix; I couldn’t help but remember what I had done. It bothered me for years until finally about 15 years ago while on vacation with my family in Florida, I visited the Publix where I had worked. I asked to see the store manager and then shared what had happened when I was a teenager working there. I profusely apologized and explained to him that I wanted to try to right the wrong by giving him $200. When I finished my explanation, his face changed, and a big smile appeared. The store manager told me that in his thirty years as a Publix manager, he had never experienced anyone doing what I had done. He took my money to donate to the Publix Foundation.

Though I left the store $200 poorer, I felt like a great burden had been lifted. I asked him to share my story with his young stock clerks and other team members and tell them how much easier it is to always do what’s right.

We are all human, and we are going to make mistakes. However, when you fess up and clean up a past mistake, it opens a new space in your heart and mind that can now be open to something more positive. Below are a few thoughts on cleaning up your past errors.

  • If you have offended someone or done something wrong, apologize and do it quickly. Take full responsibility for your actions.
  • Make a commitment not to repeat the mistake. Change your environment if it will help remove the temptation.
  • Do what it takes to try to make up for what you did wrong. It will clear your conscience and make you think twice before repeating the behavior.
  • Use your past mistakes as a teaching tool for your team. My grandfather always told me, “Experience is a dear teacher!”

It’s never too late to right a wrong. And you’ll sleep better after you make things right.

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