Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Beauty of Failure

There are so many opportunities to fail throughout this life.  It is impossible to escape mortality without bumping into circumstances that cause discomfort, pain, frustration, heartache, and just plain annoyance.  I'm talking about the big things, of course.  But I'm mostly referring to the little stuff...flat tires, a chipped tooth on picture day, a sick child on the morning you've planned a cross-country road trip, gallbladder removal surgery that didn't resolve any of the symptoms.  If not kept in check, these setbacks can pile on top of each other and begin to feel impossibly overwhelming.  At least, that's how I've been feeling lately.  Like there is this invisible force that is hell-bent on siphoning away all of my emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.  The beauty, and zeal, and all encompassing passion I usually have for life has gone missing.  My Joie de vivre is broken.

I came to this conclusion the other day when I was scrubbing a toilet.  This is where it gets really depressing.  It wasn't even my toilet.

Because of the circumstances that life has mercilessly handed me, I am cleaning houses again.  Please don't read this and think that I feel I'm too good for manual labor.  I have so much respect and appreciation for anyone in this line of work. It's hard work, it often doesn't pay well, but it's a job that offers the gratification of knowing that my hands have created a cleaner and healthier home for another human being.  The knowledge that I've actually made a difference in someone's life, even by doing something as simple as scrubbing their kitchen floor, offers an intrinsic reward and sense of satisfaction that is difficult to parallel in this economy.  It also affords me the flexibility to be home with my kids while they are so little and teach them about the world I've brought them into.  Does it sting knowing that my college degree sits uselessly under a stack of pictures in my crawl space?  You bet.  Do I regret working so hard to earn an education?  Not one bit.

But I digress...

I was scrubbing this wonderful lady's toilet when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  Usually I try and work quickly, often avoiding even momentary pauses.  But I couldn't help but stand up and take a minute to evaluate the woman I was seeing in the full-length mirror.

 Haggard, pale, gaunt, sick, nutrient-starved,


My very first thought was actually a question dripping with desperation.  "What on earth are you doing, Janet?"

Somehow, somewhere along the way- I have given myself permission to chicken out.  There is a list a mile long of possibilities and extraordinary opportunities that I have chosen to pass on or have tried, but failed, because of my battle with my most prominent, resounding trial- Anxiety.  It's like Fear and I have a consulting partnership- I can't make any decision, big or small, without first holding an internal meeting with Panic, Doom, Worry, Cowardice, and Despair as the acting Board of Directors.  Here is the real kicker- my anxiety has actually gone on to create legitimate health problems- which only amplify and further complicate my web of phobias.

I have had a near constant drip of anxiety coursing through my veins for over 20 years and my body is now officially exhibiting signs of burnout.  Between the daily stomachaches and panic attacks, self-inflicted alienation, nausea, racing and irregular heartbeat, brain-fog, depression, unhealthy weight loss, and lack of motivation- I may have hit the lowest I'm willing to let myself go.

But there's a beauty to all the crap I just mentioned, and this is what I'd like my kids to take away from this-

"Why do I talk about the benefits of failure?  Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.  I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.  Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.  I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive.  And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.  You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable.  It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all- in which case, you fail by default.  Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations.  Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.  I discovered that I have a strong will, and more discipline that I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.  The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.  You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.  Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned."

                                                                                                                                         J K Rowling

Emma, Ben, and Lyla- my advice to you is to look for the beauty that lies inherently within failure.  Welcome setbacks as opportunities to break from your expectations, which are often distorted and unrealistic; and live your lives authentically.  You need to know that your dad and the three of you are the bright spots in my life.  I may feel like a big, fat failure in every other arena of life, but I definitely didn't fail at you!


Reference - 'The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination’ Harvard Commencement – J. K. Rowling

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