You Don’t Have to Love Failure.
Moving gives me time to reflect.
3 years ago I moved to a new city in a new state. It’s a very different place from where I grew up and from where I’ve lived over the past 5 decades, and it stretches me in new ways every day.
I’ve become something else while living here. “Someone” else, my father would correct me- stressing the “one” part. Yet on several levels, I feel more like something else, something I never expected. Sometimes these days I feel as though my life isn’t entirely my own and I’m merely waiting for something different to come along. Different as in a different life, a “do-over”.
It’s a feeling I recognise having had in the past, each time I’ve been about to create a BIG change for myself. Usually it’s an exciting, kind of feeling, like when you are climbing that first big hill on a rollercoaster. There’s excitement mixed with a kind of certainty, inevitability.
This time it’s a different feeling.
This time it’s all about regret.
That honestly surprises me to write. For most of my life, I could state without equivocation that I didn’t regret 97% of what and how I’d lived. That doesn’t feel true at this moment. Right now, at 5:30 am after a restless night, I regret almost all of it.
I regret not marrying the man who proposed to me as I was leaving for a semester abroad in Rome. I regret not telling my High School crush while we were in school together that I was totally enamoured of him; too awed to admit how he made me equally nervous and delightfully weak in the knees. I regret many of the men I chose to be in relationships with in my 30’s and 40’s, even my best-friend-ex-husband whom I think very highly of to this day. I regret the pain I caused us both because of decisions I made, both in saying yes and in saying no.
I regret not being a better dog-owner and taking my pup on more longer off-leash hikes. I regret all the coffee I drink even when I know I am better off not… I regret the bike gathering dust in the garage and the skis in the basement and all the times I’ve talked myself out of going out for something fun because I told myself I was too tired or worn out or overworked, that probably wasn’t true all the time.
Too many times I thought I could make it all work by shear force of will.
I couldn’t. I failed and I regret that as well.
Failure is something that gets talked about a lot these days. Mostly the talk is about failures in business and in education and how when we consider them as a “growth mindset” or a new perspective, we are able to see them as useful. That failures are practice runs to make us better, stronger, smarter, etc…
We don’t talk as much about the experiences of personal failures. Those are still often hidden under a veil of shame or worry or self-doubt.
When I’ve failed at this relationship or that personal challenge it can be hard at times to admit to myself without dusting it with a bittersweet phrase or two. It’s difficult for me (and I think for many of us) to sit in the light of pure personal failure and really soak it in as something that might just might be useful.
There are hundreds of books and blogs about seeing failures as strengths or practice runs. Yet to me, these seem to be missing something of the value of feeling our failures as simply FAILURES. We are after all human and fallible. We will make mistakes and fail no matter how smart, talented, dedicated or optimistic we are.
Rather than immediately telling myself that my current regrets about failing so many times in the past 54 years are, as one friend likes to say “another f#*king growth opportunity”, I have decided, at least for now, for a few days or weeks or maybe longer, to allow myself to feel the failures.
I’ve yet to put my finger on it, but I have an underlying belief that allowing myself to truly feel like I’ve failed, to fully regret much of my life up to today, might actually open a doorway to a new and sharper perception of the world.
Lamenting offers something.
Poets use the word, “lament” and that feels fitting to me. I want the time and space to lament my poor choices and missed opportunities. I want to cry over mistakes and miss-steps and yes, “the spilt milk” of my bad guesses.
Lamenting leads to grieving and if I’m to believe all the literature on grief, grief leads to the blossoming of hope.
That’s what I’m greedily aiming for; a fuller blossoming of hope in my life. Like watching a rose unfold in a time-lapse film, the idea of allowing myself to fully experience my failures as just that- real honest to goodness failures- and that doing so will lead me on a journey into a fresh perspective.
That’s where the joy comes in.
I’ve got little to no idea where this experiment will lead me and I am willing to be fully present for all of it. ( I’m also fairly sure that means it’s gonna suck at times!) It’s gonna be messy in places, like the rest of life.
I’d love to be able to wrap this up with some pithy quote that inspires me, you, whoever reads this but really all I am left with is a question mark and the following invitation to you:
What are your thoughts about failure?
Not the public one you think is right or useful, but the real, deep-down, dig-around-in-mud thoughts about failure. The messy ones that make us each more than a little uncomfortable.
Let’s air them here- share ideas and all the muddy bits together, and let’s see what happens when we do. What happens as we celebrate and lament regret and failure and create healing?