“I cracked it!” my three-year-old daughter said as she dumped the egg into the batter. “Yay,” I celebrated as I discreetly picked out the shells. Soon after, she dropped her new Frozen snow globe and cried, “Oh no, Elsa! Momma, can you fix it?” I was instantly struck that only one of those two events taught her about the breakable nature of things. Failures happen, and when we look around to discover why, we learn something about ourselves.
That’s what happened to me, at least, when I went through a challenging divorce in my early forties. It wasn’t an acrimonious split, but because we were both work colleagues and spouses, it affected every part of my business and personal life. By the time I learned to meditate, lean into what I feared, and finally feel ready to date again, I was in my mid-forties and facing the steadily banging tick of my biological clock. I was ready to have kids, but I hadn’t found the right partner, and the conditions weren’t as I’d always imagined or expected. I felt like a failure — but retrospect, I am forever grateful for the hard won self-awareness and perspective that the challenging situation taught me.
Before I got divorced, I cared too much about the appearance of my success. I’d always thought I was in charge of my life story, and I felt that success was a given. But after I worked through my failure, my journey to have kids as a single mom reflected each point I’d learned.
The first step to accepting my path was my first fertility appointment. I walked into the clinic, and felt exposed and embarrassed. Looking back, it was only because I had endured so much embarrassment having to walk into work the day after I found out that my husband had cheated on me that I was able to steady myself at the appointment. I no longer cared, for the most part, about how I appeared to others.
When the doctor gave me my options, I realized that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was the only realistic method for me to have kids. In that moment, I knew that I had to let go of my previously held beliefs about how to get pregnant. I had to accept that I wasn’t in charge of how things would come to fruition in my life.
Shortly after I decided to go ahead and start the preparation for IVF, my beloved father was killed in a tragic bike accident. Looking back, it’s clear to me that I only managed to proceed with trying to get pregnant amidst the enormous grief because I’d learned how fertile the ground of heartbreak is. When I finally had my beautiful little girl, I managed the exhaustion of long days and sometimes even longer nights because I realized it was delightfully promising compared to the long years of recovering from a broken marriage.
Then, I decided to have a second baby and I miscarried at 10 weeks. I sat with that disappointment and failure for many months before deciding to try again. I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy at the age of 50.
One of my favorite quotes is from the musician Hazrat Inayat Khan. He says, “God breaks the heart again and again and again until it stays open.” This concept resonates so deeply with me, as failure cracked me open, and helped me see that I had to open my mind shift my perspective to achieve what I’d always wanted. I had to let go of my preconceived notions about how my life should play out, and instead focus on what I needed to do to celebrate my path.
Today, when I’m busy with my two young kids, I don’t spend much time thinking about the long years and hard lessons I had to learn — but when I do, it feels more like a metamorphosis than a failure. To me, that’s success.
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