In my life, I have set myself up for failure a lot, confusing goal-setting with imperious, inviolable self-commands.
I’ve never seen failure as my friend, even though I was taught by my father from a young age that failure is simply another kind of opportunity. Perhaps I just never believed it. Okay, it’s pretty evident that, no, I didn’t believe it at all.
One of my most self-annoying habits is setting unrealistic expectations for myself (and others, but that’s a different post). I gather this is standard behavior for folks who have been diagnosed with ADHD, and so wasn’t surprised to learn it. We are often ridiculously optimistic people, believing that–because we can do many things well, and creatively–we can do every single thing that pops into our heads. It boils down to: I Want To Do Something = I Can Do Everything.
Sometimes setting the bar very high works out great. For example, I gave myself a year to write a novel, wrote it in a year, and sold it. I told myself I would have this year’s Christmas packages mailed out before the 19th, and have everything wrapped and the house decorated by the 20th, and I did. In years past, I spent all of December in chaos, but this year my Christmas break has been very relaxing and full of lots of undirected time, which is something I treasure. But often going big doesn’t work out so well. Witness that I told myself and my BFF and my agent I would have not only the proposal for my next book done by the end of July, but the book itself done by October 1st. And here it is the end of the year and neither are done. I fell into the same pattern I have for every book since my second: write 30K words or so in the spring, have a crisis of confidence in the story all summer and early fall, adding only another 15K or so, and finishing in a rush before February. I also told myself I would post a blog here weekly this past year, and I haven’t even made one a month. Back in November I told myself (and others) I was going to lower my cholesterol several points by this spring by following a rigid diet. I stuck to the diet for a week.
Every time I’ve failed at something, I’ve felt a sense of shame and of not being enough. The failure struck at my sense of self with the force of a cutting blow. I let it in, let the shame touch the deepest part of me. And the result has been that I didn’t want to try again because I was too damaged. Every failure became a death nell for the next thing I thought to try, undermining it before I could even get started. Yet, from every failure I actually learned very important things. Every time. I grew–sometimes exponentially. Often the thing I saw as a huge failure was merely a stepping stone to another, more significant, more satisfying experience.
Public failure is painful. Frequent failure is more painful. Failure is to be expected. Failure is a part of life.
There is only one thing a person can’t fail at:
You can’t fail at being yourself.
That may not sound profound to you, but it is a phrase that stops me dead in my tracks. What can it mean?
It speaks to me of self-acceptance. Of hope, but also understanding. Failure is not really in the equation at all because failure is an event, not a personality trait.
Yes, we can change our behaviors. Yes, we can grow. Yes, we can examine ourselves. Yes, we can even feel regretful or sorry for things that we’ve said or done. But we don’t have to judge everything we do, or measure the Self against anyone or anything. The Self remains inviolate, and should be protected from the coldness of the world as well as our own mental garbage and neuroses.
The Self inside me is hopeful and wise and silly and is not a linear thinker. It believes all things and loves all things. It glows with the spark of the Divine and recognizes the spark in everyone around me. Sometimes it sees through the glass in which it lives darkly because of the layers of judgment I’ve layered on and armored it with. Sometimes it can’t recognize the spark of others because of the grubby armor they have layered onto their own Selves.
I’m not suggesting that we should float through life, brandishing our naïveté, setting ourselves up for hurt. Or maybe I am. Maybe what we need (or simply what I need) is more vulnerability, more willingness to say, “I may not meet your expectations or even mine most of the time, but this is what I have to offer. It will be enough.”
As soon as I finished typing that, I had the same crisis of confidence that I have after nearly every sentence I type. What will you think? Will you disagree? Will you think I’m an idiot? Will you still like me, if you like me at all? But I’m going to leave it there, anyway, and not explain or defend it against the objections I imagine you are having. No caveats or but-ifs or qualifiers. It’s an opinion. My opinion. Yours may differ, but here, now, I’ve decided it has to be enough.
I’m a work in progress, and sometimes an over-sharer. I’m not a brand, but a writer and a wife and a mother. I wear a lot of other labels, too. But I am primarily, elementally myself.
The Next Thing
Because I am me, and love the ambitious, slightly crazy thing, I have decided to go public with the number of words I write every day. I want to see in real time what I’m doing, and the reporting of it will help me stay accountable to myself. Dean Wesley Smith, a truly fine teacher, and one of my productivity heroes, does this. I haven’t decided yet how the categories will be set up. He also includes his workouts. The idea of doing that makes me feel more vulnerable than even reporting my writing (or not writing) sounds. Pondering…