The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at the things you really care about. (Unicorn Store, 2019)
Unlike Kit from the movie Unicorn Store (2019) who dreams of having a unicorn in her backyard, my dream was totally rational and attainable. Ever since high school, I have been a very well-planned person. I knew what university and what major I was going to choose even before my friends figure out what to do with theirs. It worked well ever since. If my life was a puzzle, every missing piece seemed to be where they belong, making the puzzle complete.
Predictably, God decided to rearrange my puzzle. Right after I passed my probation at work, I got diagnosed with four illnesses at once. All of them are centered in my lower abdomen, which caused unbearable pain during the day and night. My family and I decided that it was for the best to resign and focus on my health.
Everything that happened so fast made me being too afraid to plan anything. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I want to do next. It felt like almost completing your puzzle, but someone decided to burn it all down.
I have never been a fan of failure
The whole of planning thing I did since I was a child was to avoid them. I was so confident that if I did everything according to plan, everything will go according to plan. You get what you pay for. But poor me, it’s not how this life works.
I started to change my perspective: what if this is my time to build another puzzle from scratch? Not only the big square puzzle like everyone else’s but any form I desire?
Epictetus, a philosopher in his book Enchiridion said: some things are up to us, some things are not up to us. This is called “dichotomy of control” where there are things we can control, and things we cannot control. What I have been doing wrong: I felt like I have to control everything. I did not understand the fine line where there are actually things that are out of my hands, for example, my health and body.
Epictetus also said that some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. This is called Stoicism.
Stoicism said that it’s not something rational when we are worried about things we cannot control. Instead, we should have tried our best with things within our control.
Stoicism made me realized I have been too hard to myself
I realized I have been putting unnecessary pressure on my old self. To control my body, to control opinions about me, whatever it is not my own doing. For years in life, I have been focusing on things that are out of the equation for my happiness.
Massimo Pigliucci, a professor at CUNY City College in his TEDx gave an easy analogy about this concept. Imagine that you are shooting an arrow. You tried your best to practice, exercise your hands so it would be strong enough. You also chose the best arrow and the best weather to make sure it will be shot perfectly as you plan. However, after the arrow is being shot, where the arrow will land is not within our control anymore.
Until now, I have been trying to control the arrow. Imagine me trying to hold it as fast while it is being shot and crumbling. That was me. I have been trying to control things beyond my ability, and putting the result in my happiness equation.
I began to dig in more about this concept by reading Filosofi Teras written by Henry Manampiring.
It is not things that disturb us, but our opinion about them
We get sad, or mad, is not because of the situation but our opinion towards them. Lets put it into this case, I got to resign two times after being diagnosed. There are two sides of opinion I could put into: first, I am depressed because I can no longer work 9–5 jobs failed at my career at a very early stage. Second, I can let them go because my body is beyond my control, or create a business instead. Two situations, whole different interpretations.
Through this book, I learned that we cannot blame anyone else for our emotion. Our emotion is our responsibility, and it is on our control. Good news is we made our own opinion towards things so we can control our emotion. You don’t need any validation from anyone to be happy.
Failure is only a value judgment
Stoicism sees failure as an opportunity to practice our virtue. When a disaster happened, think about the virtue you can work out. I used to feel bad every time I had to lie down in bed because of my severe abdominal pain. The pain made me couldn’t do anything for days while I used to be very productive. Nonetheless, feeling bad just made me feel worse. I shifted my value judgment: resting means I am listening to my body. I am doing what I can to myself feel better, and that is not a mistake.
As stated by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who is widely known as the founding father of positive psychology movement, Martin Seligman, our ability to deal with setbacks is largely determined by three P’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.
- Personalization: not everything that happens to us happens because of us (emphasis ours)
- Pervasiveness: whether you see negative experiences as global or specific. “Is this event will affect all areas in my life?”
- Permanence: whether you see an event as stable or unstable, or how long you think the negative feelings will last
Failing at your plans doesn’t mean you are a failure. What makes you a failure, is when you decided not to get up. Perhaps learning about and understanding about stoicism is the first step we can take to make ourselves feel better. Nevertheless, failure is what makes you a human.
- Manampiring, Henry. 2018. Filosofi Teras. Jakarta: Kompas.
- Yudan, Fhikri. 2019. Prinsip Dikotomi Kendali Stoisisme untuk Adi Saputra taken from https://www.qureta.com/post/prinsip-dikotomi-kendali-stoisisme-untuk-adi-saputra
- Lebowitz, Shana. 2017. Sheryl Sandberg says the ‘3 P’s’ have helped her become a stronger person after her husband’s tragic death taken from https://www.businessinsider.sg/sheryl-sandberg-martin-seligmans-3-ps-helped-me-cope-with-my-husbands-death-2016-5/?r=US&IR=T