"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important." - Le Petit Prince
As we journey, we will certainly grapple with failure. How we view failure and define it to ourselves is imperative in terms of our resilience and our ability to keep on keeping on. If we don't define failure, no question, it will define and control us. It won't be pretty.
Merriam defines failure. How do you define failure?
Let's go kid-fears. Remember when Donkey wasn't afraid of Shrek, really really? Over time that changed how Shrek felt about himself and his ability to relate to his world. We can be afraid to just be with ourselves, really really. A fear that might leak out as avoidance or seeking distraction. We're busy, sometimes too busy. But that's the point, yeah? What might we discover or realize or learn about ourselves if we face our really really stuff. Hard stuff. The very stuff, when brought out from shadow, dissipates by light and is transformed, which transforms us. Stuff of deep understanding. Stuff of real change. Stuff of wings.
Like Merriam Webster's number four: 'one that has failed', I'm definitely a one that has failed. And failed and failed and failed and failed and failed. At least in the way I used to define, view and approach failure. Inching (emphasis on that inch) towards forty, I've had lots of practice. Maybe you can relate?
One thing I've learned is that failure and fear are cosigners. Where you find one, you'll stub your toe on the other. If you're like me, then you'll dive headlong into a door frame and knock yourself unconscious. Fear of failing. Fear of trying. Fear of trying and failing. Fear of success - which is real. Fear of not measuring up. We'll readily admit we don't care what others think, yet our struggles do not often reflect our bold admission, if we're being real, really really.
All that practice has produced some serious transformation in my views. No longer do I see my failures as Failures! I used to be like Frieda (Data Points - Part One) self-scolding everything I did or didn't do. Which was exhausting and time consuming and did I mention exhausting and time consuming. Such an energy suck.
Now I only see Data Points. I can do a lot with data. I enjoy data. My years as a research assistant, writing and conducting experiments and grading symptomology were some of my most enjoyable. I can step emotionally away and analyze data.
One of my favorite quotes on success and failure comes from Amy Gardner of the West Wing (you're catching on by now, kinda my fav show), from the episode titled Red Mass, "I didn't stage a nutty. I fought you, I lost, I had drink, I took a shower. 'Cause that's how it is in the NBA. You know what I do when I win? Two drinks!"
Another great one we often see quoted, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison
And my absolute favorite, "If you can meet success and failure and treat them both as imposters, then you are a balanced man, my son." - Rudyard Kipling
I tell my children there is no failure, it's all just data points. Information. Information where we gain insight about ourselves, about others, about whatever-it-was we're working on or trying out or going through. Information that can be applied and used to inform further action and decision. You can graph that shit. Our posture towards failure can make failure a tripping point or a data point. Francis Bacon was right, "Knowledge is power."
For a considerable time, I was an unyielding perfectionist. A trait I considered a positive, as in "oh yeah, I'm a perfectionist, I'll work hard, do a good job for you." A trait that could serve me well, especially during my designing years. Which when it did, only wrongly validated my unhealthy characteristic. But when it didn't, I couldn't come out of the weeds, I would get so tangled, so stuck inside my tunnel vision. Some ways down this path of seeking wellness, I embrace my daily mantra of 'good enough.' Thank you college economics, therapy and the realization that oh man, life really really is short. It's not worth the tummy angst, knotted muscles and constant frustration.
There are still times when I sense myself start to go down that trail of needing things to be just so, a signal to me now that I should check in and see what's up. Understanding the connection, for me, between perfectionism and control and failure (and other things), was liberating. It was difficult work, asking tough questions, really really looking at answers I wasn't proud of or wanting to hear. I'm happier on this side of dissipation. Genuine peace replaces the agony of making that nth-degree detail perfect. It definitely helps birthday parties go more smoothly. Body tension at it's limits, quivering under impossible exceptions, have relaxed into wonder and curiosity, "what data might today hold?" Where perfectionist me could not let go, good enough me holds palms up and open.
My attitude towards failure finally became pliable when I was faced with the perceived loss of my identity once I left my position as a designer. In pursuing wellness and healing, ultimately I knew I was doing what was right for my family and my future Heather-self. But it also did feel like another failure. Another something I had hurtled towards at light speeds only to hit immediate shutdown, the yellow safety stop. It left me dangling between cliffs. My routine, my confidence, my sense of self - everything was suspended and rocking. There was nothing to grab onto as failure thoughts churned and boiled leaving a slippery residue on every surface.
Chronic pain represented my lack of control. It had been consuming me for years. I couldn't fix me. Doctors couldn't fix me. I needed something I could fix. Being a manager, designing products for fascinating projects provided an outlet and opportunity for that need to control something. Unhealthy in expression at times, it did give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. At this point, I still wasn't sharing much about my pain journey. The huge distraction that had filled my time and mind was instantly gone. The void I was now dangling over, slipping into.
My wellness journey began to fill that void. In my rear view mirror, dissecting the ways I had at various times considered myself a failure, I realized something profound. Instead of typical, "here I go again," I shifted to, "look at how much I've been able to experience." And "what an awesome journey!" From that posture, my many and mis adventures are celebrated not condemned. I do recognize my accomplishments, "two drinks!" My vision for so long clouded by anxiety, depression, pain. Sometimes, most times, we are our biggest roadblock, blindspot and source of sabotage. Once I was able to reframe failure at data, clarity settled into sheer joy of getting to live my life, come what may. Unabashed self-acceptance. A superpower that unlocks all the levels. My self-narrative about a overhanging ideal, wholly interlaced with feelings about myself, who I was, what I was able to do, what I wanted to do, could do - had pupated. There was going to be no going back, I just didn't know if what emerged would have wings. What used to be a firehose of inability to parse the droplets - such that it was all just massive failure - had become dots of data on a piece of paper. Data to inform me, allow me to consider objectively ways to process and proceed. In changing my response, I've altered my affect, my mind, my body, my trajectory, my DNA.
My hurtling of the past, a meteorite of defense and fear and damnit, so much to prove, outrunning the anxiety, I would beat tomorrow itself to tomorrow. Petal carnage, love me, love me not, smeared and smashed. I could have keep going that way. But I would have never been alone with myself. It takes great courage and willingness to be alone with ourselves. To face what comes up. My beautiful pain prevented me from reaching the wrong stars. Without it, I would have never come to understand the undercurrents of my function or have been able to be well enough to step into the stream of presence. I stopped to smell a rose. I saw the beauty of a rose. I found my rose.
My bullet has become a slow burn. Fire opens seeds. Dreams have not perished. Errors don't hold me hostage. I don't let them. Missteps are still steps. Grist and fodder. Focusing on failure was to spin. Focusing on data is to be propelled. In failure mode, I was trapped. In data point mode, I'm free.