|synonyms:||lack of success, nonfulfillment, defeat, collapse, foundering
“the failure of the assassination attempt”
Reflecting back on the last few months, I have realized that I operate in a manner that tries to avoid failure. I do this by either a) sticking to things that I am good at (school, business) or b.) avoiding that of which I perceive myself to be not so good at (vulnerability, relationships).
I thus have had my world a little bit shaken the last couple of months when I have failed, not just once, but twice on the business side. Making it even harder to swallow is that on the business side of life, I quite simply have never failed.
For starters I have never had a proper job, unless you count the 3 jobs I juggled the summer going into my freshman year at Yale to prove to my Dad that I would help finance my college education and the full scholarship I turned down was the right decision. I’ve managed to somehow keep myself financially afloat on both random women’s soccer salaries and my ideas fueled by passion, belief and a love of executing them.
It’s not even the financial ramifications that get me with these two business failures, (one blessing that I’ve always had is that money besides its use for housing and feeding me has never really been a focus) but it’s just well simply for the first time having things in this realm not work out. Twice in the span of a few months.
So after my most recent failure and to cope with the millions of thoughts floating through my mind, I did what any normal person would do when they were bumming hard, and drove aimlessly from LA to Northern Cal. My first stop was to get a haircut in San Francisco from a friend that was with me when our soccer team went bankrupt in Norway (these things bond you for life). After reminiscing of our lives when no one got paid and half the team had to move in with strangers after the club bankrupted, and getting a great haircut to boot (Salana in San Fran, run by my friend Lana if anyone needs a pro) I continued my aimless Californian wandering.
My next idea was to text message my former college roommate from UConn who is the most hysterically funny person I know. I figured her of all people would be a good tonic when I was feeling as melancholy as I have felt in a long time, as she lived 2 hours south of San Fran in Monterey.
“Hey Lex, you home?”. I wrote her
“Did you mean to text me?” She wrote back, thinking I meant to text someone else, a fair question when it had been over a year since we’d last been in proper contact and there was no plans for a visit on the horizon.
“Yeah, I’m in San Fran driving back to LA, I thought I’d pop in if you were around.”
“Yayayayayay come on over.” A response only fitting from the best of human kind, which she is.
Which led to me sitting in her kitchen on what morphed into a 3 night visit, talking to her and her husband, who I’ve known since he was a nervous college sophomore coming to our house for a blind date with the senior All-American soccer player. I proclaimed (over dramatically) that nothing felt more like failure than being 36, single, having 2 things bomb in the last few months, negatives in the bank account and no set plan of what the future looked like.
Now, I know well enough to know that I have plenty to have a load of gratitude about as well. Namely my health, the knowledge that I have been through hard situations before and found a way to land on my feet, and well, again, my health.
But despite knowing all this, I still felt like shit.
Her husband Tony kindly proclaimed me the most, “put together vagabond” he had the pleasure of knowing, which we all decided to shorten to PTV, as he had just proclaimed himself the KOA (King of Acronyms.)
But back to the failure, and my penchant for it lately. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about it, inspired namely by the amazing collection of people that I have scattered around that are inspirational, incredible and always seem to know what to do or say to put everything in its proper perspective.
The most important thing I think that as people we need to do more of, is fail and be encouraged to fail. And instead of running from failing, or subscribing to society’s message that failure is negative, I think it is something that we need to run towards more and open our minds to get the most out of it that we can.
Because as a good friend said to me the other day, society tries to make everything black and white, makes it about keeping score, and pushing the idea that when someone fails, someone else succeeds. But there’s so much more behind it.
So without further ado, here are:
5 Steps to Failing Well.
- Be Proud for Trying
Attempting something takes courage, and there is always no guarantees. It resonates as cliche, but every time we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and into a realm where there is a chance of “failure” we are daring to live a life that is far more exciting, enriching and gratifying than sitting on a couch never stepping outside the door. Take a moment and give yourself credit for making an attempt.
2. Take Ownership of Your Role in the Situation
In the midst of one situation falling apart, I had a conversation with one of my longest friends (read I had a crush on him in fifth grade along with the rest of the girls in my class), Chad, who as only the best of friends can do, verbally kicked the shit out of me a couple of weeks ago, when he was kind enough to let me couch surf (in a nice guest bedroom) for the weekend.
I was in the throes of one situation going completely wrong, and found myself blaming everyone else. He quite bluntly pointed out to me that there was a lot that I had done wrong in the situation and that the whole situation would be a waste if I refused to acknowledge it and learn from it.
Let me tell you as someone that has relied on a good dose of self-righteousness in hard situations in the past: to truly step back, be vulnerable and with humility recognize the role that I had played in the situation was not a pleasant experience.
You only need to ask the people that walked past me in the middle of the day, as some random chick (me) had tears streaming down her face as she aimlessly walked around Vancouver a few hours later thinking about that conversation, for confirmation of that fact.
3. Stop Defining Situations as Winning and Losing
As I tried to defend to Chad everything that everyone else did wrong and spoke about how I would take the high road, he looked at me, clearly frustrated that as my Yoda he was not getting through to me.
“Ciara, I don’t know if its because of the fact you played sports for so long, but it’s not about winning and losing, high roads and low roads. If you continue to define things like that, no matter if you think you “win” is, you are always going to lose.”
He continued, “The fact that you’re still defining things that way makes me feel that I’m not getting through to you. It’s about bettering yourself as a person and learning as much as you can, and not at the expense of other people being right or wrong. Go back and approach the situation with humility, really think about what you could have done better, and how your actions have affected the situation in a negative manner, and acknowledge it and most importantly apologize.”
You can imagine, as a chronic “need to be right”, practicer of the religion of self-righteousness, I was left feeling slightly nauseous.
Which leads me to the next point of failing well:
4. Leave situations in a positive way
As my marathon conversation with Chad led through the weekend from Friday into Sunday brunch with our other good friend Donna as we replayed our conversations to her, Chad said to me, “Ciara you need to learn to leave situations without there being a big ball of flames.”
I again, had to painfully acknowledge, this time to Donna, that my tendency, perhaps to not have to deal with the sadness, vulnerabilities or my own weaknesses in various situations, tended to pattern with a negative, dramatic ending, that allowed me to bathe in self-righteousness of being wronged, not having to acknowledge my own failures and allowed for the hardness of casting people from my life.
Ironically, as we weaved our way through the conversation, I got a text from a friend telling me that one of the main players in my latest scenario had been involved in a house fire.
Chad morbidly chuckled as I silently passed the phone across the table with the text I had just received, letting me know about the fire, “Well if that’s not a sign from the universe that a big ball of flames is not a healthy way to leave situations, I don’t know what is.”
5. Take Your Lessons and Be Better Next Time
I think it was in a book (Outliers?) by Malcolm Gladwell, but it talked about people who were successful and how no one talked about all of the failures that had led to their success. And in fact, those that had been “successful”, upon closer examination, were the people who had allowed themselves to “fail” many, many times (quotations to signify societal definitions).
Gladwell cited examples of authors, business people, politicians, sports heroes and musicians to show that a commonality of everyone was to put themselves over and over again in situations where they failed. Through this failure they continually learned and put themselves into situations where they would eventually have the knowledge to succeed.
For good measure, I think I’ll throw in a sixth way to Fail Well.
Surround Yourself With Good People
Looking back on the last few weeks, I feel so grateful for the friends that I have had that have called me out and challenged me to be better, when they could have played the pity party with me, friends that have taught me that the biggest cure to any crappy situation is to laugh and make fun of it, and the gift of friends that have reminded me and encouraged me that I’ve been down and out before and managed to get myself landing right side up. And stuck out a hand to help me up, if that’s what I needed.
And reminded me of the best lesson of all, and a reason to run towards failure:
To fail is to live.