Failure

The 300th: An Ode to Failure

This is my 300th blog post.

Three hundred separate times, I’ve sat down and written a thing and posted it on the internet. Sometimes they were words I couldn’t keep in for a moment longer so that they spilled out in an almost violent rush. Sometimes they were words I spent weeks weighing and measuring, trying to say something true, but in the most careful way I could. And sometimes they were words without any great weight behind them – snapshots of the moments that make up my days.

Today is also my 31st birthday. I have so many things to be thankful for in my life. Without being too mushy, I will just say that I am deeply loved by some of the most wonderful people on this planet and they do an amazing job of showing me. That is all I could ever ask for. But this post isn’t about how lovely my life is.

It’s about failure.

In reflecting on the last year, I’ve had many wonderful and meaningful experiences, but I’ve also failed in a lot of ways. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried to project an image of perfection here. I’ve been honest about struggles and difficulties. But I also don’t know that I’ve talked much about real failure–as in the things that are entirely my fault and entirely within my control.

There are the small things:

  • I accidentally betrayed a confidence. I didn’t do it intentionally, but I should have been thoughtful enough to avoid the topic entirely instead of assuming what the other person already knew. Nothing catastrophic has come of it, but I still should have kept my mouth closed.
  • I completely forgot to check in on a friend who I knew was having an important appointment. I genuinely wanted to know the outcome, but I failed to follow up with her which communicated that I didn’t really care.
  • We have a four-cup coffee maker (which in my house is actually a two-cup coffee maker) and a few days ago I heard Jonathan waking up, so I ran to the kitchen and quickly poured the last cup of coffee into my mug before he came out so that I wouldn’t have to wait 5 minutes for a new pot to brew.

And there are the bigger things:

  • I recently shouted at a family member in moment of self-righteous fury that was both ungracious and unnecessary. Also, I am not a shouter. A very animated talker, yes. But not a shouter.
  • I kept a secret from my husband for the better part of a year because I was so ashamed of it. Me. Someone who would identify authenticity as one of my core life values. I kept a secret from the person I am closest to in the world. Like a lying lier who lies. This was just one factor that led to a serious and scary breakdown in my marriage, something I always thought was too rock solid to be shaken.
  • I quit on an important project that I care deeply about and want to support, but simply couldn’t get my shiz together enough to participate in fully.
  • A few weeks ago, I had a conversation where I speculated on someone else’s sexuality. Even though I sincerely believe this to be an unkind and above all unnecessary thing to do, I did it.
  • I am really struggling with resentment towards someone in my life. It has nothing to do with them. It is entirely my problem. But at least 50% of the time, I want to punch them in the face for daring to exist.
  • I set out to write a book a long time ago, but I do not have the discipline or the work ethic or the perseverance to see it through. Every time I try again, I end up quitting.

I promise, there is a point to all of this. The thing I’ve learned the most over the past year is that there is no such thing as a failure-free life. As a recovering perfectionist, this is hard for me to accept. I am programmed to believe I should always be making progress. I like to think I can outgrow failure, or at the very least, that I can learn not fail at the same thing twice. Experience says otherwise.

Failure is inevitable, but it’s not the end. It’s an opportunity to identify my priorities and to really ask myself if my actions reflect my goals, my values, and the kind of person I want to be. It is humbling to admit to being wrong and to ask for forgiveness. And it is beautiful to receive forgiveness from others and from myself.

The other great gift I’ve received from all of my failures is that, in my better moments, it has given me greater compassion towards others. Understanding my own inability to stop failing makes it easier to forgive other people’s failures too. It’s so much easier to live believing that those around me are doing the best they can, but, despite our best efforts, we all still fail sometimes.  We all need the grace of God, myself as much as anyone.

In the next year, I hope that I will grow as someone who is kind and genuine and generous and gracious. I want to invest more in my writing with the goal of one day being self-employed as a writer. I want to make peace with my body and manage my mental health better. I want to love the people in my life well. I want to explore more of the world and to have new adventures, but also do a better job of appreciating all there is to explore and appreciate in my everyday life.

I will probably (definitely) fail in both small and spectacular ways at all of these things, so along with all of these hopes, I am thankful to be in a place in my life where I feel secure enough to fail. My worth and my worthiness are not dependent on my successes or failures. I only need to be humble enough to admit my failures, to ask for forgiveness where necessary, and to have the courage to try again.

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Featured Image via Ted.com

 

 

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Call Me Maybe: A Guest Post About Embarrassment, Failure, and Karaoke

I am so excited today to be featured over on Lindsey Smallwood’s fantastic blog, Songbird & a Nerd. Lindsey asked me to write about a time when I experienced something out of the ordinary – a time when novelty causes us to notice. I could almost have picked any day of my two years in Korea at random and found material for this, but I chose to write about a less-than-glorious moment and what it taught me about Failure, Shame, and letting Life shout the loudest.

“Perhaps the only thing Koreans love as much as kimchi and soju is singing karaoke, or norebang as it is called in Korean. Singing is such a deeply embedded part of Korean culture that it’s virtually unthinkable to be Korean and not sing (sort of like being Korean and not drinking, but that’s a different story for a different time). Much like golf in America, singing karaoke is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do as part of a business meeting or work event.  

When we’d first arrived at the restaurant I’d scouted the room for the telltale sign of the cart with the microphones, speaker, and video screen and had been comforted when I didn’t immediately see one. I should have known there was always one in reserve.”

Read the rest of this post here and be sure to check out other stories on Lindsey’s blog!

Wholeheartedness: Practicing Self-Compassion When I Feel Like I’m Failing

Today I feel like I’m failing at life.

I’m not a very “together” person and honestly, I’ve never tried to pretend that I am. I don’t have a problem admitting that I mess things up sometimes. But lately it’s felt like all the time.

There are dozens of things I know I’m not very good at. I don’t like failing at those things, but in a way, my expectations of myself aren’t very high. I’m prepared to deal with these failures. It’s so much more discouraging to find you’ve failed at something you like to think you’re good at. And I’ve been failing like a boss.

You know how sometimes you pray for patience and then God gives you lots of trying circumstances as opportunities for you to practice? And (if you’re like me) you’re like, “Yeah, not cool, God. Not what I meant.” I feel like that’s what’s happened to me lately.

At the beginning of the year I said, “Ok, God, I want this year to be about learning wholeheartedness. I want to live with intention, to connect, to be compassionate, and to live a life that isn’t ruled by shame.” And I feel like God said, “Ok, well here’s some anxiety, and here’s some loneliness, and here’s a heaping spoonful of shame. Go ahead and practice wholeheartedness. Sucker.”

Yeah…Thanks, but no thanks.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what Brené Brown calls “shame resilience.” This is the ability to accept that you’ve made a mistake without letting it affect your sense of worthiness. It’s the ability to lean into those feelings of vulnerability and silence what Brown calls your “shame gremlins” by practicing self- compassion. This is how we can admit to our mistakes and learn from them without letting our mistakes define us.

I have been lonely lately. Not, “I have no one to hang out with” lonely. More like I don’t feel a strong sense of connectedness and belonging. This has made me self-focused and self-centered. I’ve spent more time feeling sorry for myself, thinking about what I wish I was getting from others instead of about what I could be giving. And this has led to some pretty epic fails on my part.

My shame gremlin sounds like a meaner version of Mushu from Mulan. (Hashtag Disney4Eva). “Dishonor! Dishonor on your whole family. Dishonor on you. Dishonor on your cow…” except more like, “This is why you’re lonely. Because you don’t deserve love and belonging. Because you suck.”

Dishonor

Yesterday I let my shame gremlin overwhelm me. It was one of those days when I went to bed at 8:00 simply because I couldn’t bear being conscious any longer. I woke up this morning feeling about the same and frankly, I don’t feel much better now, but I’m going to try to practice shame resilience. And I’m going to start by extending grace.

The thing about grace is, it’s always there for me if I just let myself receive it. The only thing standing between me and grace is my shame. I inked this word, “GRACE,” onto my body because I wanted it to mark me, but I still have trouble letting it pierce my heart.

When you’re not very good at something, the only way to get better is by practicing. So I’m practicing. I’m practicing extending grace. I’m saying, “It’s OK that you really messed up, here. You are already forgiven. You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. You can grow and you can learn from it. This does not affect your value or your worth.”

I’m still feeling pretty crappy. But that gremlin sounds a little quieter now. He’s still talking, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen.

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.

 

6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.

Good Enough: For those of us who feel like we aren’t

I’ve been thinking  the last few days about some of the lessons I’ve been learning over the past few years. I think one of the biggest ones is simply that there are many, many times in life when you don’t get what it seems like you “deserve.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my habit of trying to earn things, trying to prove my worth through good actions.

As a child I tried to be invisible, and when I had to be visible, to be helpful.  I stayed in my room and I read. I played make-believe games with my dolls and toys and dress-up clothes and sometimes with my imaginary friend Sammy the Squirrel. I was afraid to ask for things. Though no one ever said these words I somehow believed, “You are in the way,” “You are a burden.”  “It’s your job to keep others from being stressed at all costs.” When I visited my dad (my birth dad) I stayed in my room or watched tv. I often made his breakfast or lunch for him, set the table, folded the napkins nicely, cleaned up after myself.

In high school I was a model student. Certainly I had moments of being a moody teenager or moments where I spoke disrespectfully, but by and large I was a teenager most parents would kill for. I didn’t sneak out, I didn’t party, I never smoked, never drank, never so much as held hands with a boy, never said a curse word. I made straight A’s without being hounded about it. I got into several great colleges with full scholarships. I chose the best people available as my friends. I never broke my curfew. I never lied about where I was going or who I was going with. I was grateful for things and I was mostly respectful. I helped around the house. I was kind to my sisters. I served at my church. I genuinely loved the Lord.

This is the sum total of my obvious sins during those four years: There was a boy I liked very much, although I never told him and nothing ever came of it, I liked him.  I totaled my mom’s car the first time I drove alone, not because I was being wild…I somehow am the only person I know who could manage to total a Volvo while going 20 mph. I was sometimes disrespectful or had a bad attitude. I loathed my English teacher. And for three weeks I had a secret blog which I then felt guilty about and deleted.

And yet…I spent most of high school with my stomach in knots. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. No matter how badly I wanted to make everyone happy and how good I was trying to be, I would inevitably do something wrong, make someone angry, disappoint someone. And whether it was wearing too much make-up (while wearing the same amount I wore every day) or disagreeing with a pronouncement, or forgetting something I was supposed to remember, the overwhelming feeling was that no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.

It’s not as if I think about these things regularly. In fact, I rarely think about them. And it isn’t that good things never happened to me. I have great memories of special times with my family. I have a mom who is one of my dearest friens. I had a prom dress that made me feel like Belle. I went to a wonderful college. I made good friends. I married the love of my life. I had the most beautiful wedding I could have imagined. I was able to take some amazing trips. I got to spend the last year helping to raise some of the sweetest kids imaginable. And these are the things I hold onto.

I am twenty-four years old and it’s time for me to stop believing that if I’m good enough I will eventually have the things I want. That if I’m smart enough I can have a job I love. That if I’m kind enough I will have friends and won’t be lonely. That if I’m generous enough I won’t have to worry about money anymore.  The reality is, sometimes, I am good enough and helpful enough and my dad (my birth dad) still doesn’t love me. Sometimes I work hard enough and I’m still not the best or the smartest and I don’t get the job I want. Sometimes I am as generous and giving as I am capable of being and that isn’t rewarded with financial stability. Sometimes I am as kind and friendly as I know how to be and my coworkers still all go to lunch together and don’t invite me. Sometimes I am disciplined with my eating and work hard with my body and run more miles than I’ve ever thought I was capable of and I am still ten pounds overweight and I still can’t sleep some nights from stomach aches.

So I think the lesson in all of this for me is that sometimes I don’t get a new car or a job that pays well or get to travel or have the ability to buy a house or thinner thighs or a better digestive system. And it’s so frustrating when I feel like I’m doing everything right and it’s all for nothing, and those around me are getting all of those things I desire. I still don’t know why this is. But I do know why it isn’t. And it isn’t because I am not enough.  The God-King of the Universe wrapped himself into a little ball of squirming, stinking human flesh and grew into a kind and humble man, and stretched himself across a heavy, splintered beam of wood and suffered and died. For me. For my shame. For all the ways in which I am truly not enough. And I know that when God looks at me, He sees His son. He sees More Than Enough. It is the miracle of the Incarnation. That even when everything in my life is screaming “Not enough,” God looks at me and whispers, “Enough. More Than Enough. Just as you are. Enough.”
 
I can’t change the fact that often, no matter how hard I try, I’m not “rewarded” for my hard work, and I might never fully understand why. But I can choose to believe what God says about me. I can choose to believe that I am Enough.  

There is no failure

At the beginning of this week two of my roommates from college were in town visiting. It was the first time we’d all been together since my wedding in June. It was wonderful to see them and so strange to realize that we’ve been out of school for almost a year and how quickly that’s gone. It’s strange to think that our college experience is over and all we have left are the memories.

For the most part I had a wonderful college experience–I made lifetime friends, I learned so much academically, socially, and spiritually, I met my husband, and I learned how to drive in the snow. But what I found myself thinking about as we reminisced were the things I wish I’d done differently. The things that, if given the chance, I would do over.

During a significant portion of my jr. year I was pretty severely depressed. There was family drama happening at home, two of my roommates (the same two who were visiting this week) were studying abroad half of the year and the resulting living situation was tense and stressful. I was terribly lonely and felt that I had few friends which made me put a tremendous amount of pressure on Jonathan to be available to me anytime I wanted him. And on top of all of this, a friend of both of ours made some choices that we couldn’t understand and for which I judged him severely. For some reason, although his choices didn’t directly involve me, I took his actions as a personal offense. I handled the situation so poorly that I lost that friend and hurt someone else in the process. There are times even now that I cannot believe Jonathan still chose to marry me after seeing that.

When I reflected on these things that I wish had been different I realized that even if I were able to go back, there was very little I could have changed about the situations themselves. What I would have changed is how I responded to them. I would have stopped myself from taking responsibility for things that weren’t my responsibility (the family drama, whether or not my roommates were getting along, whether I thought my friend was making the right choice.) And then I realized that while I regret some things about that time in my life, without it I might not have changed. With it, I have the hope that in the present and in the future I will handle myself differently.

At Weight Watchers they say, “There is no failure. Only feedback.” What they mean by that is that if you have a week where you don’t make the healthiest choices, and the result is that you gain weight, you shouldn’t see the gain as a failure. Instead, it’s your body’s natural feedback to the choices you made and that feedback tells you that if this isn’t the result you want, you should make a different choice. I think in many ways the rest of life works that way too. While it does us no good to live in the past or to dwell on our mistakes, I think much of our success and growth in the future depends on our past.

I look back on that year, and on other situations over the past few years and see things that I wish I’d done differently and I am faced with a choice. I can either live a life filled with regret (and trust me, this is easy for me to do. I am the queen of beating myself up over things) or I can look at things I wish I’d done differently and do them differently. Now and in the future.