April 7, 2014
F is for…
I achieved failure of great magnitude this past week. Notice I said I achieved failure, not that I am a failure. That’s part of my self-talk training. Ordinarily I would have owned that moniker, and, in fact, my first instinct was to word it that way…but I stopped myself. Baby steps.
I failed in the majority of my objectives for this spring break that just ended. Not all of them—I spent time in amazing beauty and nature; I enjoyed incredible fellowship with a friend and fellow writer; I took some cool pictures; I got to do ranch chores. Those objectives were happily well-met. But the more serious objectives—finishing grading, finishing my master’s thesis—were abysmal failures.
At 42, I am still learning things about myself. I’m not really happy about that fact. I’m middle-aged. Shouldn’t I know everything about myself already? I mean, really…. But alas, I continue to surprise even myself.
As I mentioned in my “E” post, I enjoy solitude and was set to make the most of it in the second half of my spring break week; but solitude on the heels of such transcendent fellowship and laughter as I enjoyed in the first part of the week ended up feeling more like solitary confinement. I was not ready for it. I was completely unprepared.
Furthermore, the stakes I have attached to finishing this thesis are great. It became for me The Daunting Task (capitals intentional). Therefore, not finishing it became A Failure.
But here’s the thing about failure. (I’ve written about this before.) Failure is necessary. In fact, failure is one of the best ways to learn. As Lewis Thomas, biologist and writer, notes, we don’t learn through trial and triumph—we learn through trial and error. Thomas posits that when mistakes are made, the ground for learning and discovery and breakthrough is at last primed. What matters is what you do immediately following the mistake or failure.
Michael Hyatt has posted more than once about the question one should ask when negative things happen. Instead of asking “Why me,” complete with moaning and whining, he suggests asking “What does this experience make possible?”
So what I am doing post-epic-failure? What is this failure making possible?
- Faith—yes, God and I have had some long, drawn-out, honest conversations over the past several days. I’ve never been this honest with him before, and it’s changing me.
- Friendships—friendships are made to be two-way streets, and in the past few fraught months, I have had to allow myself to take of my friends’ resources. Friends have helped save me from going over the mental or emotional ledge. I have had to draw on friends’ faith, when I lacked enough of my own. (Thanks and deep gratitude to those patient and giving friends!)
- Functioning—by which I mean functioning fruitfully and efficiently; I am in the process of scheduling and creating useful structures whereby I can redeem the time I’ve been given, rather than wasting too much of it like I feel I’ve been doing.
- Freeing myself—detaching my self worth from the thesis, reminding myself that it’s something I do, not something I am, which really extends to seeing myself differently, too.
“Take risks. Be open to failure. Failure is how we learn. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” I’ve been preaching this stuff to my students for years. I’m preaching it to my colleagues vis à vis Common Core and project-based learning. Gotta keep practicing it, too. What the eff?
Good post. Many layers.
Thank you, Tonia. I appreciate it. I’m peeling through many layers myself.
I once read that we determine our answers by the questions we ask. It sounds like you are letting failure help you find the new questions that will set you on the course of your choices. I really liked the honesty and hope in this post.
Thank you, Linda. Honesty and hope are two of the things I’m shooting for in every post. It helps me to hear that they’re coming through.
Visiting from A to Z Challenge. I, too, wrote about Failure for F! If you’re interested, the post is at http://www.evolvingenglishteacher.blogspot.com I found you via a comment on my blog.
So you didn’t finish the thesis yet. Did you quit? If not, you didn’t fail. Will you grade those papers? Yes, so you can count that as a success. Time is tricky, and I’m not sure it alone is the appropriate criteria for determining success or failure.
Thank you, Glenda! I’ll go read your take on it. Haven’t quit yet. Time is indeed an interesting construct, and I appreciate your putting it into perspective.
Without Failure we would never learn what not to do, sometimes it’s as important as what to do.
Agreed, Micah! Thank you for reading and commenting.
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Such a good post. I can so relate.