My best lesson of 2009 was learning how to fail. More specifically, learning how to fail with finesse. The projects that failed—and even those that teetered precariously on the edge of failure—changed me, humbled me, made me sick to my stomach and motivated me.
With failure come the cliché-but-true aftereffects: you learn, grow, understand what not do next time around and are (hopefully) better for it. These aftereffects are the glints of light pushed up in the dark corners of failure. Some failures take a lot of stumbling in the dark, others are swift and quickly overcome.
This past year I’ve failed at:
- meeting work and school deadlines
- being punctual
- paying my car insurance bill on time
- earning straight As in my graduate program (overachiever much?)
- winning 1st place (or sometimes, even placing at all) in all of my dance competitions
- heeding the advice of mentors
- fulfilling others’ expectations–and perhaps more disappointing, meeting my own expectations
I’ve failed at many other things this year, but I’ll spare cataloging those for the sake of your patience. None of the above failures are individually a big deal; we’ve all been late to a lunch date, turned in a late bill payment, even ignored solid advice from those closest to us.
It’s that last phrase on the last item on the list–failing to meet the expectations I set for myself–that jars me to the core.
Don’t get it twisted–I don’t obsess over failure. Rather, as I reflect on 2009 and find footing in my life projects, I realize that 1) many of the failures were trivial and impermanent and 2) the failures that hit me a bit harder had valuable lessons.
But let me return to that last item on the list above.
Forfeiting before game time
I frequently manage to talk myself out of something before I’ve started. I’ve done this many times in the past year. I’m unreasonably good at finding every justification, excuse and (imaginary) angle of a situation that hasn’t even happened and then acting on those pretend scenarios. This bad habit lacks anything that resembles reason or forward movement. This bad habit is perpetuated through my fear and self-protection.
“What better way to avoid failure than to not try in the first place?!” I think, smirking at my supposed stroke of genius.
The problem with this illogic? I fail before I’ve even had the chance to fail. It’s failure squared. And it tends to hurt even more than the pain of trying and failing.
When I forfeit before the game has begun, I completely fail to meet the expectations I set for myself. I then bottle up all the shadows and pains of failure squared and cast dark, starless light on my other life projects. It’s an ugly domino effect. Falling short of my self-expectations is okay. Giving up on those self-expectations is not okay. It hurts my heart to even write about these failings, but I know that in laying bare one of my biggest weaknesses I can set in motion a healthier, more productive way to fail.
Failing with finesse
The hurdles, stumblings and failures of this past year have had a potent aftereffect: my capacity for gratitude. Failure has taught me about gratitude–gratitude for the lessons learned, for the unexpected opportunities along the failing way, for the people that buttressed my self-confidence and put up with my foul attitude. I have expanded the capacity in the gratitude corner of my heart. I’m blessed to be exactly where I’m at as well as to be able to move forward, even though I may stumble.
My failures of 2009 also shone a sweeter light on success. My successes stand tall, triumphant among the failures.
As I launch forward into continued and brand new life projects, I want to fail with finesse. Most importantly, I want to fail because I have taken risks and pursued my goals–and avoid failure squared and self-defeat. When I stumble–and I certainly will–I want to work on the subtlety and grace that are required to fail with finesse.
I’m participating in Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Click the link. Check it out. Pick one prompt or all 31. Reflect on your year. Day 24 Prompt: Learning experience. What was a lesson you learned this year that changed you?