Failing Forward

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Be the artist of your own life.

My elementary school art teacher once told us that making a mistake with a brush stroke did not alter the outcome of the painting. Instead, it was meant to be incorporated into the entire picture. That is how I believe we should view our lives. Like a painting. We make each brush stroke part of the story, even when we color outside of the lines.

This affected me to become the artist of my own life. I decided to use everything that happened to me to help others. I was a young girl facing my grandpa’s sudden heart attack when experience first forced me to learn this lesson. He was my everything. I was only seven years old when it happened. My parents began the process of divorce not long after he passed. I felt as though I had failed in some way, that it was my fault. At school, I did not receive compassion from others as I was expecting.

I later learned that I was not the only one to face hardships.

There was once a story I heard where someone was impacted by a simple lesson from Mr. Rogers. This was a child being abused by his mother, and he would hide from her in his kitchen. He was put down and he felt like a failure. Then, something changed. Something opened up in him when Mr. Rogers said to little kids on his show, “I like you just the way you are.” This is the idea that turned his life around: that simply being was enough. It should be that simple. Like you for being you.

Self worth is often attributed to achievement and activity. Advertisements in the media often correlate success with not just financial freedom but with excessiveness. We are supposed to be excessive in our careers, our commitments, our “close” friends, our achievements and our already crowded agenda books with a competitive Joneses mentality. But at what cost?

In Yoga, there is a pose called Tree Pose. This is where you reach up and put one foot on the opposite leg. One day, an instructor in my power vinyasa class told us that it was okay to fall down. The important part was that you recover. We were allowed to encourage each other, and feel comfortable to fall out of a pose in each other’s presence. Recovering is true resilience.

Many people find themselves answering the demands of life but in doing so, ignore their own limitations. Fear of failure plagues the mind and to not live up to these expectations is perceived as a reflection of worth. This is reinforced in the education system, jobs, parents, friends, societal standards and a culture of success being outside of you. Instead, we must find adaptability and self-advocacy to not lose what is most important in life.

Adaptability is one of the major keys to resilience. In order to be adaptable, we must recognize our limitations. We must know what we can and cannot take, what is in and out of our control and what defines or does not define our worth. When a person believes that what others say about them is controllable, and they fail to change it, they internalize that as a personal failure. Instead, we must make the lessons learned our story and self-advocacy our strength.

We each have an opera that occurs in our mind. There is a wailing singer screaming, “I can’t!” And unfortunately, no matter how much you believe it, most people will not care to stay around to hear that tale. Self-advocacy must replace self pity. Make it so that you refuse to not succeed. This means pushing forward through every hardship faced. Giving up is strength when it comes to rebuilding and regrouping. We must be purposeful and kind to ourselves. People pleasing is how we deter that when we need to learn self advocacy.

Self-advocacy. I used to internalize things and it affected my health negatively. I hoarded my imperfections, my problems, never letting anyone see my struggle. The problem was that I wasn’t in a position to help myself and since I wasn’t letting anyone know of my troubles, no one else was either.

When a person internalizes anything as an indicator of their self-worth or lack thereof, they begin to question their own worth as a human being. The people who survive these unhealthy mindsets are not the strongest nor are they the “best.” Instead, they are the ones who share their struggles and adapt. They are the ones who SELF-ADVOCATE in their struggle.

This is because we are all human beings. We are not perfect. The more we celebrate our imperfections and remove the stigma of struggle, the better we will function and the more we will create together. Collaboration rather than competition is the outcome of self-advocacy and removing the stigma of struggle. This is true success: Empowering each other to find who we can be and what we can learn from sharing our stories. That is power. Not defeating everyone, overcoming everything and being alone at the top. It’s understanding that no man is an island. We are all in this together.

I eventually did learn to share my struggles and my stories with others and I am much stronger for it.

The simple lesson from self-advocacy is that self-worth comes from loving yourself. You are responsible for believing in yourself even when others do not. There may be waves taking you into different depths, but you must not just go with the flow. You must reach out your hand and ask for assistance. Assisting others is how you pass it on. You must also ask, comfort, receive, give, love, share. These lessons we learn as a child are how we rebuild and find life again.

Self-worth is not about winning everyone over. If you follow that blindly, you miss your true genius or calling. Sometimes, people cannot see what you can see. That perception is a gift. That means that the majority of our successes and struggles are about the perception of what it means to succeed and struggle in itself. The definition is how we separate the detour from the destination and choose to be adaptable and self-advocate through the struggle.

When you adapt and self-advocate, you build resilience to the rain that falls. You realize it doesn’t matter as much. You take the punches, turn the cheek, remove the toxic people, stop people pleasing, you build a stronger vision, you persist through another failure to find a better method and just keep going onto that motion creates. Every effort creates something, and you have to find the strength to build even when the outcome is not what you intended. Use it as though it was purposeful for your journey. That is how you fail forward.