So often we hear the comeback story after the comeback has been made. The hard times are glossed over and...BAM...straight to the success portion we go (cue up Robin Leach voice over and close-ups of symbols of wealth, status, and success) . Well, I'm breaking the mold. I'm going to talk about the messy part. The part that no one likes to focus on or even admit to. Here goes...
I've been working at something for the past few months and it's been a total and complete failure. Yep, I've been failing. Spectacularly. I haven't actually said this out loud, so it's time to own it. It's been difficult for me, because I was so sure that I would succeed at this. I was confident going in. I visualized all sorts of successful scenarios, so imagine my shock -- and shame -- when I utterly failed (multiple times, in fact). My results have been downright paltry. I've made dozens of mistakes. I've been frustrated and discouraged, and I've beaten myself up for the fact that I haven't figured this out yet. Ahhhhh...it feels good to just acknowledge that.
This experience has been quite a teacher. I had no idea that failing so completely would be so darned useful. It's gotten me thinking about success and my past relationship with it. There I was all discouraged because I've never failed like this before when I realized a sobering truth -- I never failed so spectacularly because I've often backed down before failure could even happen. Heaven forbid I looked stupid or incompetent or wrong. Nope. Didn't want to go there.
Yet now, here I am. I not only have gone there, but I've been dwelling there for weeks. A few weeks ago, after contemplating quitting, a surge of "oh hell no" moved through me. It's not so much that I wasn't succeeding. It's just that I hadn't figured it out yet. YET. And if I quit, well then, yet would never come. I recommitted and tried all sorts of new things. That's the interesting thing about frustration -- it makes you creative. I tested new things. Failed. Tested something else. Came up with new ideas. Am still coming up with new ideas. I just keep implementing, failure be damned. It's not that I'm not succeeding. It's that I'm not succeeding yet. And failure has become a sign that I've gone all in without an escape route. Somehow hanging out in Failureville doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it feels worse that I've made so much effort to avoid Failureville in the past.
My pride has certainly taken a hit. A much needed one. I went into this feeling like I was the smart one who had an advantage. Ah, what a raging ego I have. All of this intelligence has been getting in my way. It's time to finally admit that I don't know anything. Nope, nothing at all. It's time to dump out the cup and go back to empty, because having a full cup leaves me with no room to learn anything or see a new possibility. I haven't quite dumped out all of the cup. I'm currently at half a cup, still stubbornly holding onto some of my self-proclaimed savvy and brilliance. That should be gone after another few weeks of failure. I actually look forward to the experience.
Why is failing such a big deal? When babies fall down constantly when learning how to walk, do they pack it in and say, "Well, I just can't get a hang of this walking thing. I keep falling down. I'm going to throw in the diaper and stick with crawling. No more walking for me. I can't take the looks from mommy and daddy when I fall on my tushy. It's just too hard. And I want to look cool in front of the other babies. If I fall down all the time, they're going to think I'm a loser. Can't have that. I'm done with the whole walking thing. No more for me. Mommy and daddy can just carry me around forever."
Yeah, sort of seems funny when you look at it that way, doesn't it?
When I first started practicing yoga, I had no clue. I couldn't understand the Sanskrit coming out of the teacher's mouth (what pose now?). I couldn't remember what body parts went where for every pose. I worried that my fellow yoga mat mates would think I was an uncoordinated idiot who had no business being in a yoga class. I was nervous the first time I went to a yoga class outside of the safety of my living room. That famous F word (no, not THAT one. This post is G-rated, thank you very much.) was at the forefront of my mind.
How sad really, because what's more honest, more real, and more fruitful than failure? I'm still failing, yes, but I know more today than I did yesterday or last week or last month. And all of the times "this didn't work" happens, I've figured out a different way. Eventually I'll find a way that works and gets results. But until then, I'll keep emptying my cup of all of my preconceived notions, my vain imaginings, my arrogance, and my belief that I know everything (or anything, for that matter).
We're so socialized to be good, to be right, to fit in, to not show weakness. Where does that get us, really? We hide our true selves from others and we pretend we're doing great and have it all together when we're not and we don't. And when people like us, we feel bad about that because we know that they don't really know us because we haven't let them in. Instead, the facade we've created is what people are responding to. And it feels shitty (so much for the G rating. That language just put us squarely in PG-13 territory.).
A few years ago, I was in a group workshop in which a woman stood up and shared a deeply personal thing from her past that she, at one point, considered shameful. I was horrified by her story because it was a difficult, painful thing to have endured. I wasn't horrified by her. I was horrified FOR her. I didn't feel any judgment towards her. In fact, what I felt was pure love for this woman who had the courage to stand up in front of a large group of people and share herself. There was no hiding or shaming or pretending. She opened herself up and let us all in. I still remember that woman. I remember how I felt when I listened to her story. It's something I'll never forget.
Is hiding necessary? Pretending, denying, lying to ourselves and others -- why do we feel the need to do any of these things? Are we scared that we'll lose love and be judged or rejected? The thing is -- whatever it is someone is hiding, in denial or lying about is something that someone else has experienced too. We're not alone in these experiences but we separate ourselves by all of the hiding, pretending, lying and avoiding.
I've done my fair share of all of it. Now I'm opening myself up and talking about what's happening. I'm failing. And I'm proud that I'm failing epically because that means that I'm showing up rather than avoiding and refusing to play a game that I don't think I can win. I'll take failing over not participating any day.
Anyone want to join me in sharing your experience? It doesn't mean that you have to dwell on it and get mired in bad feelings and beat yourself up over it. It's more about lightening up because you're acknowledging what is right now (remember -- YET).
Right now my story isn't glossy. This isn't a success story. This is a story about failure. It's messy. And it's frustrating. And in many ways, it's pretty darned beautiful. I've ditched the linear, I-should-know-better-I-have-a-lot-of-experience-and intelligence-at-this-point nonsense for the freedom of free falling into failure. I'm emptying my cup and getting close with "I don't know." I'm accepting all of it and myself where I am right now.
It's quite possible I did look stupid on my yoga mat all those years ago in my very first public yoga class. Imagine what would have happened if I had avoided it altogether because of fear of failure. I much prefer failure over the alternative.