The Power of Failure — Part 1
Do you feel like you’re fighting a battle you can’t win?
Often in my life and the lives of my family, friends and clients I see this frustrating battle between wanting a certain result and not getting that result. Between wanting to be “there” and still being “here”.
It’s as if we have this invisible barrier between us and the thing just beyond our grasp. It’s dense, broad, and impenetrable.
But it’s not for a lack of trying that we don’t get what we want or go where we want. In fact, we’re willing to try anything and everything. We try force and that backfires. We try programs, religions, and promises and those backfire too. Strangely, it seems the more we try the less we move. Perform and no results. Hustle with little reward. Input incommensurate with output. Quicksand. Shouldn’t we be moving farther, faster?
It’s almost like every open door we run to closes just as we approach.
We think to ourselves, “Why! Why is this so hard?”
“Maybe if I were a better person or had more sense or didn’t have such a messed up childhood, then I would be _____ by now…I would have achieved this by now. Clearly I’ve crossed a wire, missed a step, offended a god, forgot to pay a bill, and because I avoided entertaining that hobo angel, I’m going to hell.”
Basically we hit a wall and throw up our hands, “No matter what I try it’s not working.” Unfortunately, at this point we allow our thinking to spin out of control. We spiral downward into fear and self-pity. And if you’re anything like me, it can get pretty bleak pretty fast. Sadly, many of us — especially myself — never see this line of thinking for what it really is: radically limiting, wildly inaccurate, and self-defeating. This kind of thinking robs us of our ability to creatively problem solve and simply shuts down our faith.
Can you relate to this? Sound familiar in any way? Probably does.
So why, with all this earnest effort and honorable elbow grease, is it so hard for you and I to get what we want so badly? It could be a number of reasons. But I think at the end of the day it all boils down to one primary factor. We dismiss the power of failure.
Is it that we’re not meant for it? Maybe it’s not meant for us? Perhaps we’re not good enough or we haven’t tried hard enough? If we’re honest maybe it’s that we haven’t really tried at all? We thought we were but in reality we weren’t and we just need figure out how to try the right way…someday — somehow.
It’s like we’re wrestling with the sheets. You know? All tied up in the Rubik’s cube of twisted bed linen — we’ll figure a way out soon, but we just need to relax because the more we writhe, the more tangled we become. The worst of this line of thinking is the fear that we fail because God is mad at us. I know that sounds rudimentary, and it is, but I’ve had those thoughts deep down at one point or another. It’s totally warped thinking. Because if we can’t see failure as the only way to get where we’re trying go, we’ll get stuck in a repetitive cycle of cynicism and scorn.
The power of failure is in using it as a refining tool.
We all fail. Failing is human. We all lose. Losing is human. The power of failure is in using it as a refining tool. The moment we stop failing is the moment we’re gone from this earth.
- Respond: Its power depends entirely on how you choose to respond (with shame or without it).
- Learn: Failure is a teacher. You can learn from it or you can skip class and repeat the same lesson again later. It’s up to you. You have the choice.
- Grow: Failure is only powerful if you choose to grow from it.
- Refine: Failure purges the heart and cleanses the conscience if you let it.
- Change: Failure creates an opportunity for a profound turning point.
The Only Way Out Is Through.
Love the punishing winds and with a primal howl, cry out for more.
Imagine yourself in a tiny Homer-esque sail boat amid a raging storm. Wave after humbling wave slams against your body. You barely make out the shoreline through saltwater soaked eyes. The meager wooden hull creaks with pains of strain; it was never made to weather storms so fierce, so turbulent and so prolonged. You barely have a moment to catch your breathe before the next swell engulfs you. You’re fighting against the current with all you’ve got and there wasn’t much left in you to begin with. Then you realize you’ve only got one oar and it’s a snowball’s chance in hell you’ll make it out of this storm alive.
This is failure. Crisis.
Three years ago I was fighting against my own turbulent currents. I was living in denial about many big things; addiction, abusive relationships, old baggage and unhealed trauma.
My life had become completely unmanageable yet I was living in a dream world where I never connected the dots. My husband and I were trying to save money by living with my parents in the suburbs of Knoxville while he was going full force towards his second life as a Firefighter. Although I was in my late twenties I had never learned to drive and couldn’t get myself anywhere I needed go without the help of my mom or a friend. Can you say stuck? On top of all of this I was working a part-time retail gig for a person I clashed with on a profound level. On the days I wasn’t working the dreaded sales floor, I would strive and push myself to get clients for my dream career as a Health Coach. Although it was starting to feel less and less like a possibility.
I was trying anything and everything to get people to pay attention to me. I was giving talks I was terrified to deliver, setting up workshops and tele-seminars that gave me the shakes, I was making flyers, doing free consultations, and cramming every last ounce of energy I could into trying to make this thing fly. For some reason it never occurred to me that my life was unmanageable. My self-care fell by the way side, I became increasingly filled with anxiety and terror. I lost track of my choices and never slowed down enough to see that all the power to move forward was in my hands if only I would step forward and deal with the things I least wanted to deal with.
The fact was that my marriage was under strain, all my close personal relationships were under pressure, my finances were suffering and I was losing myself in the mix of it all. During this time I had started following a marketing mentor online and basically fell under her spell. I became more and more convinced that she had the solution to help me get what I wanted more than anything: A full practice with lots of clients and enough money to start living my life.
The way I saw it, she had the secret sauce and I needed it. I was willing to do whatever it took to get it. Even if that meant lying to my husband to purchase a ticket to a live event that cost about $1,000 we didn’t have to spend. I gave my all to her teaching and earnestly put everything into practice that I could. Yet very little was moving the needle for me. I began to think I needed more of her time, and I actually thought that if I could just meet her in person, she could sell me the magical bean that would tell me what I was put on this earth to do. I was desperate for an answer. My heart so longed to be satisfied that I lost sight of the mess lying right in front me. Looking back on this, it’s hard for me to believe that I never saw how unmanageable my life had become, how silly and insane it all was for me to give my power away to another person. To utterly lose myself in the false promise of riches and glory.
It wasn’t until I talked to a friend on the phone that something started to shift in me. I’ll never forget her words because I couldn’t dare believe them. I actually remember thinking how they seemed nice but misguided.
“You already have everything you need inside of you to succeed.”
After I confessed to my husband that I had lied to him about how much I spent, I unsubscribed from this marketers email list and I haven’t looked back to her for advice once. It’s not that she was a bad person selling snake oil. No, of course not. But during this time of intense vulnerability the last thing I needed was a one-size-fits all solution.
What I’ve come to realize is that no one way works for everyone because we’re all so unique. You can never know the incredibly subtle details of someone else’s life. All these details make up a unique string theory of varying circumstances. We all have a precisely designed path in life given to us by God and though we may end up in similar places, the routes are as unique as the stars in the sky. Some of us are late bloomers while others of us snap to it more quickly. Some of us have abuse, addiction, and divorce that shipwreck us for a while. And then some of us come from smooth-sailing safe places that teach us how to live right and weather the storms of life without losing our minds. In the end we all need a prescription that is specific to our hearts malady. Only we can know what that prescription is.
I once heard a teacher of mine say, “The only way out is through.” When you are in the storm you may have every kind of self doubt imaginable. You may lack the tools you need to improve your circumstances. You may feel utterly alone. You most certainly will question why you’re even in this predicament to being with. You think back to all the moments when you should have chosen differently; choices that wouldn’t have led you here. But hindsight is useless at this point. Sure, you can learn from it but you can’t go back and undo what’s done. Perhaps you even blame a person, or thing or two. Cursing God definitely crosses your mind.
But one thing is clear. None of this will amount to anything that can actually help get you out of the storm. None of it. You know why? Because you can’t control the weather my friend. Your only way out is through. You’ve got to weather that storm or die trying.
After a while though, once you accept there’s no way out but through — you realize a new level of toughness you didn’t think possible.
You never know how strong you are until you’re in the middle of an inescapable challenge for the precise reason that you have no other option but to stick it out. Even though I’m not a mom and I’ve never given birth, I would imagine this is a lot like having a baby (moms chime in if you want). I mean think about it. You’re there, fully engulfed in an undeniably painful process. You’re having a baby and there’s no way around that fact. You’ve got one job to do and that job is to have a baby. No matter how much pain you’re in, the only way out is through.
In Part 2 of The Power of Failure, we’ll dive into what it means to weather these storms, what it means to be a survivor, and how we can move through our season of survival to a season of prosper. This is a three part series and I hope you’ll stick around for all three parts. Follow me on Medium so you can see when I publish the next two parts.
So where are you? Are you in the storm? Is one approaching just off the horizon? Or have you found a way to navigate through life’s toughest systems? Let me know. I want to hear from you.