Monday, February 27, 2012

Why dwell on failure?

"I've set my teeth," is an old family saying meaning: to decide with amazing stubbornness. I may get knocked down. I may wail and despair for a moment or two. Then I set my teeth, figure out what's next, and get on with it. I refuse to spend my life feeling sorry for myself. It gets me nowhere. Yeah, it's bad. But I've gotten over that. It's old news. It was terrifying at first. Nowadays, the story is boring. I've told it a million times. Yes, I have a rare and complicated condition that makes living very tricky. But, I'm living aren't I? I can still contribute to the world in a meaningful way. I may accomplish that in a completely unorthodox way, but there is honor in being a trailblazer. This is certainly not what I thought I'd grow up to be. But what it has turned out to be, I'm making the best of.

We're taught in school that getting the right answer is the all important thing. The kid that fails is the dummy, the slacker, the good-for-nothing. There's a right way and a wrong way and the wrong way is to avoided at all costs. But that's not how the real world works. In the real world, often there isn't a right answer. In the real world, sometimes failure is the best thing that can happen. In real world stories, they all run essentially the same way: "I thought this one thing was going to happen, then something completely different happened, and it all turned out like this."

I thought I was going to have my career, get married, have kids, deal with the problems of parent teacher associations, deal with other soccer moms, get divorced, and figure out how to be an awesome single-parent household. Maybe getting remarried later down the line when the kids are older. That seemed probable to me. Getting disabled at such a young age as to be considered "Retired" by the Social Security Administration (and having the body of a retired person to match)... No... I never did think of that being in the cards. Who would?? I had dealt with a 3 year knee injury as a teen. I was no stranger to chronic health issues. But I figured every problem had a solution, right? No... there are still plenty of mysteries out there. We know oh, so very little.

These days, I've learned to linger on the failures just long enough to figure out what went wrong. I take responsibility for my part, but I don't beat myself up about it. Failure is usually memorable enough without additional self-abuse. I figure out the past, and move on. Sometimes I need a rest, so I can find a new approach for the future, and then go again. If I'm set on my goal, I try to exhaust all available avenues, and make new ones if I have to. Time will also present opportunities that didn't exist before. And I don't have to have faith that it will all work out, because that's not the point. The point is doing the best with what we've got.

As children, we have dreams. Then, as we learn, we see how our dreams were unrealistic, born of ignorance, and need some fine-tuning if we actually want to make them come true. This happens time and time again. We think one thing, then we test it against reality. The outcome may be a total surprise, or it may be what we expected. Most of the time, it's a mix of both. We take this new information, we think new thoughts, and then we test those against reality... and so on. The right answer isn't what's important. Knowing what to do when we get things wrong is.

However, we don't teach what to do when things go wrong in our schools. We say: study, memorize. If you're wrong, you're a failure and need to be held back until you can get it right. But in the real world, sometimes that's impossible. I mean, yes, you can study your little heart out and memorize all sorts of things. But sometimes, we're in an area where there's little study and we don't know what's right from what's wrong. Sometimes, we're in a situation where there is no right answer. And sometimes, the answer doesn't matter so long as it works.

I set down certain principles for myself: I must do my undertaking legally and honorably, because I like being able to sleep at night at look at myself in the eye in the mirror. After that? It doesn't really matter. It may take a long time. It may take multiple efforts. It may take an unorthodox route. (Can you imagine having your holistic doctor calling the ambulance to take you to the western hospital? That was my first clue...) But this isn't for a film crew. I'm not on a reality TV show. I'm just a gal living my life. That's messy sometimes. This isn't about perfect, so it's not about failure either. No one is handing out a report card at the end of my life.

What matters is, after my principles are met, am I okay with how I'm handling my life? Do I really need to be doing what I'm doing? Do I need to be doing it in the way I'm doing it? How does it matter to me? I'm the one who has to suffer the consequences, so these decisions are my responsibility. And yeah, I'm willing to bite the bullet that sometimes, I'm going to screw up, things are going to go wrong, or the unexpected will happen. That's life! There is no deserving or not deserving in there. It's only in story books that wizards appear to tell you you're the chosen one and here's your life's path. In the real world, most people make their life path by just setting off in a direction.

So if it's not about right and wrong answers, but results... And if it's also not about deserving or not deserving, but getting the job done... What is it I want of my life, that I think is attainable? Let's go for that. Is it going to be scary? Absolutely! Are there going to be hard times? Like we can't imagine. Are we going to encounter failure? For sure. But all journeys have these things. You'll have that on a job this size. Every great success has a heap of mistakes in its past. So why dwell on failure?


  1. This is just what I needed to hear today. We all need to be reminded not to dwell on failures, some days more than others. Thanks for the reminder.
    You have given me courage to continue on....