One of our longtime friends said to my spouse that when I took up motorcycle lessons, I'd probably do what I ordinarily do, which is to thoroughly master something, then spend lots of time second guessing myself.
Even before I could muster up any feelings of defensiveness, I thought, huh, what a spot-on analysis of me.
I may not seem like that person because I try to go plowing ahead, even as I'm second guessing myself. I try not to wallow in the second guessing. I suspect it's what wakes me up in the middle of the night: did I handle such and such the right way, have I forgotten a deadline, should I be doing this instead of that?
Occasionally, I think about opportunities that we let pass us by in our past. I am haunted by my grad school self who believed she could never survive a publish-or-perish academic world. I want to lecture that girl, to say, "Of course you could do this. You have interesting ideas, and you come at them from an interesting angle."
When I look back at this time period, I wonder how my future self would lecture my 2015 self. I suspect she'd say, "Get moving on that memoir."
It's also much too easy to berate myself for all the opportunities lost. Is that a different personality trait or part of the same one? And from there, it's a short spiral into feeling like a failure. But recently, I came across a great article from Pema Chodron on how to fail.
She says, "This is what we need a lot of help with: this feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that we are the failure because of the relationship or the job or whatever it is that didn’t work out—botched opportunities, doing something that flops, heartbreak of all kinds."
As you might expect, this Buddhist expert has a different approach to failing: "It can be hard to tell what’s a failure and what’s just something that is shifting your life in a different direction. In other words, failure can be the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh perspective."
She suggests that when we're feeling the sting of failure, that we let our curiosity take over. What is the situation trying to reveal to us?
That curiosity may keep us from some of the traps which may wait for us when we feel like a failure: we may fall into addictive behaviors to keep from feeling the negative emotions or anger that we might use rather than feeling the failure.
I will try to remember her conclusion when I'm feeling the sting of failure, of letting myself down, of not being perfect enough:
"And so I can tell you that it is out of this same space that come our best human qualities of bravery, kindness, and the ability to really reach out to and care about each other. It’s where real communication with other people starts to happen, because it's a very unguarded, wide-open space in which you can go beyond the blame and just feel the bleedingness of it, the raw-meat quality of it.
It’s from that space that our best part of ourselves comes out. It’s in that space—when we aren’t masking ourselves or trying to make circumstances go away—that our best qualities begin to shine."
It's an idea that fits neatly with Christianity, a world religion that began in failure by the world's standards: itinerant preacher, crucified in a distant outpost of a world empire. In the first century, we only see the seeds of later success, as those first believers face huge odds, even as they bring the Christian message to the heart of that same empire that killed their messiah and will kill many of them.
It's an important lesson to remember these days, when we may feel some connection to those first believers, who must have been filled with doubt but went ahead anyway, as the larger culture either ignored them or persecuted them.
feeling the feelings…
6 months ago