Hey there, dearly beloved,
I have no idea when I first ran across the two sites (links are below) that inspired and informed this blogpost. I only know that both resonated with me enough that I tucked them away for future reference. Their content is of the Things That Make You Go Hmmm variety, so my subconscious needed to ruminate on them for awhile.
The first inspiration came from blogger Lachlan Cotter, who listed his many humiliating failures in chronological order, beginning with his being 3 weeks late to his own birth.
Mr. Cotter’s tongue-in-cheek rendition is entertaining. I’m not certain I could infuse my own list of failures with a tone that would keep you reading without wholly depressing you, my dears, so I’ll spare you that. But Cotter’s list does bring to mind plenty of my own failures…and the things I learned from them.
Or didn’t learn.
Because sometimes, I don’t get it in the first round.
Or the second.
*sigh* Or the third.
So, there are two of my failures already:
1. Not being able to craft a List of Humiliating Failures well enough to entertain you.
2. Repeatedly not learning from my own failures.
Concerning #1, I promise that my reluctance does not stem from not wanting to out myself. I could tell you about the time I, at age 11, beat up Sven, who was 10 and scrawny — and I later found out he was an abused kid. Go, me. Or the time I bragged to a classmate that I would never EVER name a kid “Ingeborg” because it’s such a terrible name, and he turned to me and said, “That’s my mom’s name” (which, if you recall that I grew up in Germany, is not far-fetched at all). Go, me. Then there was the time in 8th grade when I, the opera singer’s naturally talented daughter, got the German equivalent of an “F” on a music test.
Honestly…even though I know it’s deadly to compare myself, good or ill, to other people…honestly, the only thing that keeps me going sometimes is the knowledge that other people screw up just as much as I do.
Okay, not the only thing. As I mentioned above, The Learning of Things from Failure has quite a bit going for it, too.
I learned to protect instead of attack those smaller than I (and, later on, I figured out that “smaller” didn’t just apply to physical size).
I learned to find out where others are coming from before spouting off my own opinions (Rule #214. Meet them where they are.)
I learned that natural talent doesn’t mean squat if you don’t couple it with hard work.
From other failures, I learned to stand up for my artist self — the part of me that’s created to be creative. I learned that when I defend that part, I am a happier, more wholesome, more giving, more forgiving person. I learned that when I defend my artist self, other people are happier around me*.
From further failures, I haven’t yet learned just where my personal boundaries should be in interacting with certain people. And since I don’t know the exact location and definition of these particular boundaries, I haven’t learned how to set and defend them yet. But, as I fail over and over (andoverandoverandoverandover…) again, I’m figuring out the wheres and hows one little bit at a time.
But the one thing I have learned from NOT learning from my failures is that figuring it out one bit at a time is perfectly okay.
Let me restate, because this is important:
You don’t have to figure it all out in one go. Screwing up over and over and learning a little bit at a time is perfectly okay.
I wouldn’t understand this if I hadn’t already made a total idiot of myself. Lotsa times.
Morphing from Mistakes
This learning-from-failures stuff relates quite well to an article I found to go with Lachlan Cotter’s Failures List: “Goalar Energy” by Marney Makridakis. Here are the quotes that particularly resonated with me:
“Instead of ‘measuring by milestones,’ I found great relief in ‘morphing from mistakes.'”
You do this task first. Once you complete it, you can move on to the next task. Finish that one, then on to the next. And so on. I suspect that’s the message most of us get from society, from our inner circles, and from ourselves. It’s likely the message many of us preach to others: Take it day by day. Hour by hour. Minute by minute, if you have to.
A few paragraphs ago, I was talking about learning from my failures one step at a time. But maybe it’s not a step-by-step thing? Maybe it’s a process of transformation — in which change occurs one step at a time, yes, but at such a slow pace that one “step” is indistinguishable from the next.
Maybe the process of “learning” from humiliating failure is simply to let it all be an amorphous, unattractive blob for however long it takes until something glorious coalesces from it.
“Maybe all I needed to do was simply shine…and trust that forces greater than myself would take care of exactly where the light fell.”
I operate from the assumption that forces greater than I are reality and that they are trustworthy. Thia doesn’t mean that I’m always able to trust them — which says far more about me than it does about them. Yeah, yeah, I am Eternal Optimist Woman and all that (have you heard me roar?), but verily and forsooth, I do believe that the universe operates by benign principles. And one of those principles, I believe, is “let there be light” just where it needs to be.
So, I’ve screwed up. I know that if I “brighten the corner where I am, I will light the world” (Dean Koontz)…but I also know that when I screw up and darken my corner, the darkness has a ripple effect into the lives of others. I’ve failed in some way, and now the darkness is spreading. I can watch it. I can see what it’s doing as it ripples along. How can I trust that the light will ever dispel the darkness again?
But I do trust. I do believe. And I do believe that the light is always stronger and farther-reaching than the darkness.
“Whereas the old books had instructed me to ‘be direct’ as I focused on a goal, I found that ‘be dreamlike’ worked better for me.”
When I consider my worst failures, I see that they all involved my causing someone else pain. That’s what made these failures so humiliating: not that I made a fool of myself in a slapstick way, but that I hurt someone else and damaged (or ruined) a relationship.
Unfortunately, I had to go through quite a few such humiliating failures before I learned to go with the dreamlike instead of the goal-oriented. Morphing from these failures meant recognizing that it’s not my job to fix things for others — or to fix others, period. I can dream with them even as I dream with myself…but I must give up this idea that I have the answers they need.
Does “being dreamlike” help me avoid failure? Maybe. Maybe a better question is: Should I even try to avoid failure by being dreamlike?
What I’m getting at (and what I have to remind myself of again and again) is that failure is not by nature a bad thing. It’s only a bad thing if I don’t use it as a tool for transformation. If I’m going to be dreamlike and allow my mind and heart to follow what-ifs, I have to accept that some of those what-ifs will lead me to screw up again.
And when that happens, the best thing I can do is facepalm and carry on: admit the failure, make amends if possible and where necessary, and morph from the mistake.
After all, I have a corner to brighten.
*NOTE: It is not my job to make other people happy. Others’ happiness or unhappiness depends entirely on their own emotional choices. However, when I am more authentically me — when I am what customer-delight specialist El Edwards calls “more youier” or “me-ier,” I guess — a side benefit is that my happiness spills over to others. Conversely, when I am not authentically me, my resulting unhappiness spills over to others as well.
We are all connected, y’know. : )