At Craft Lab, Melissa posed a question to Rob about failure, and his answer helped revolutionize my thinking. I planned on blogging about it, but the work has already been done so much better by Melissa! With her permission, I'm reblogging her entire post, titled "Failure Isn't." Fear of failure has haunted me my whole life, and I can point directly to moments where that fear kept me from pursuing dreams. If you can identify, you need the humor and clarity below. If something resonates, please comment on her blog, here.
You can find Melissa's website at www.mkircher.com. Look after the post for information on purchasing her books.
Failure is a word we all fear. No matter your age, your stage in life, your gender or personality, a sense of failure is something we try to avoid at all costs.
I’ve been grappling with failure a lot over the past six years or so (maybe even my whole life)—what it means, what it looks like and if this nebulous ball of crap actually defines me or not.
I’ve decided not, but it’s taken me a while to arrive at this conclusion.
It was lovely to be in Laguna Beach, CA this past week for a two-day writing/communication/creative conference with one of my favorite authors and speakers, Rob Bell. And it was even more awesome that we one hundred attending (and absolutely geeking out) persons were able to lob questions at Rob and ruminate on his inevitably genius answers. My lob was “failure”. I wanted to know how he looked at it and how he dealt with it on a day-to-day slogging it out basis. Because as much as we try to skirt failure, there are tons of things in our daily lives we label as defeat. Getting a “D” on a test, not making the lacrosse team, getting rejected for a date, being passed over for a promotion, being unable to have children, losing out on an exciting opportunity…these things wear on us. We internalize them as negative and allow them to rot our minds until they start to take on a life of their own. We become that defeat. We feel like we’ll never measure up while the rest of the world has it easy.
Which is a shitty way of living if you ask me. Where’s the joy? Where’s the excitement?
I loved Rob’s take on failure. It was short and to the point and so true : Failure isn’t. It’s just not. All these things we think are fiascos are actually what make us interesting, complex, deep, soulful human beings. We learn from failure, we grow from it. It molds us and shapes us. We discover how to laugh at ourselves, not taking things too seriously, and how to tap into our inner grit when the going gets tough.
If we take the power and negativity out of failure, a funny thing happens—life becomes an adventure. For example, on my trip to CA there was an opportunity to go surfing. There would be a beach lesson first and then everyone would be taken out by a couple of pro surfers to try to catch a wave. Now, I have to tell you, I have a deep terror of dark water and sharks, even though I love being in the sea. I treasure my arms and my legs and have no desire to have them bungling about in the belly of a Great White. But I really wanted to try surfing! Out on the ocean with one of your idols, I mean, could it get any better?
That day the water was freezing and I was battling a nasty sinus infection. I felt like crap, to be honest. I was one of the few women in the midst of a group of men who wanted to surf. And I am also the least graceful person you will ever meet. I run because it requires zero coordination except for the ability to “start running” and “stop running”. Needless to say, my expectations about surfing were pretty low. But despite my feverish dreams the night before of bloodied waters and rows of white teeth, I yanked on a (maroon, of all things) wetsuit and took my place in line, waiting anxiously for detailed instructions about how not to kill myself.
“So yeah, you want to lie down and paddle,” a dude with long bleached dreads drawled, “and then we’ll line you up and push you into the waves. You just sort of pop up onto your feet sideways and try to balance.”
|Chesha Note: Melissa isn't kidding. I couldn't hear anything, so I basically mimicked standing up, and laying down a couple times, before we went out.|
What?! The insides of my brain screamed at him. What about tides? What about the position of the moon and the crest of the waves? What about drag and pull and all the surfer, ocean-y terms you hear in the movies? And how exactly does one make sure they don’t dive onto the front of the board and break their nose? None of these totally reasonable questions were answered. Not one. And even during the sand practice I could hardly “pop” onto my feet as instructed. Everyone else looked kinda cool, I just looked like I was trying to go to the bathroom.(See above. I’m the one squatting in the raisin colored monstrosity.) But it was too late to chicken out now. I could not be a total wimp in front of all of these men, I had to follow through.
We paddled into the waves and one by one the others started catching them and standing up! Then it was my turn. Let’s just keep it short and say that I “caught” about four waves, managing to wobble to my knees before the surf pounded my face into the sand. And I think I was the only one out of all three groups who wiped out as they were trying to paddle back into the water. Graceful. So graceful.
However, surfing wasn’t a failure for me, even though I never stood up. The cool surfer dude apologized that I didn’t make it and I just laughed. “Are you kidding me?” I told him. “I can’t believe I muscled up enough courage to do this. And I’m pretty-freaking-pumped that Rob Bell just breezed past me on a surf board. It’s ninety degrees out, the water is cool and beautiful and the salt when I wipe out is helping my nose. I’m having a blast.”
Failure just isn’t. Failure can be fun. Failure can be empowering. It can show you that you have the guts to try something new. I might never be good at surfing, but I know it’s quite enjoyable and I’d love to do it again. I could have been embarrassed by my lack of coordination and frustrated that everyone else stood up except me—but I’m actually proud that I tried it.
I don’t think this lesson is learned once though, I think it must be repeated over and over again. New kinds of “failure” will always springing from the shadows and it will take a good deal of determination to view each circumstance in a positive, life-giving light. But now that I’m beginning to live without the heavy weight of failure hanging around my neck, I’m starting to see how much energy I have to do all kinds of crazy fun things.
*Photography © Rob Bell CraftWorks Apr 2014
The War Inside can be purchased here.