After my life fell apart I lost and gained many things, but I remember one companion stuck by my side and never left me feeling lonely. Failure greeted me each morning, Failure kept me company at lunch and Failure talked to me as I was trying to go to sleep. Failure was always, always there. Unfortunately, Failure didn’t play fair. Failure didn’t care how much progress I made and Failure didn’t care about all the ways I was growing and learning. Failure didn’t care about my recent successes, nor did Failure care about all the times I made the right decisions. Failure was quick to remind me of its presence when someone gave me a compliment. Failure was always ready to take over my every accomplishment. No amount of opportunity and good fortune could talk me out of my relationship with Failure; Failure was always ready to remind me of my past when I began to hope in my future.
Failure didn’t play by the rules, nor did Failure tell the truth. My friends and family could not figure out why I listened to Failure. “Failure? What Failure? Failure isn’t true! Why are you listening to Failure?” But Failure told me that my friends and family were just saying that because they loved me. Only Failure knew the truth. Failure knew that the next ten years of my life were going to be dictated by the last ten years. I thought I had no choice but to embrace Failure and not make any major moves so Failure wouldn’t strike again.
The tsunami of change that washed over my life washed away my confidence and self-worth as well. Failure began to color every thought, feeling and dream in my life. Feelings of shame permeated my thoughts without any basis of truth. I was loved, but I could not feel love. I was smart, but I couldn’t feel smart. I was surrounded by fortune, but I could not feel fortunate. I didn’t just lose a career, a relationship, or dream; I lost my identity.
My life blew up and it was far too public to pretend it didn’t happen. Lines were drawn, lies were told, and both reputations and hearts were left broken. For a while, nothing seemed to escape Failure. The shame of Failure left me crippled by the thought of change and devastated with the possibility that things may not change. I thought about sitting quietly and letting life pass so I could avoid any more pain and suffering. But book after book; study after study promised me that a life unlived is like taking a daily dose of depression and sorrow.
Surely I could do better than that.
So I began examining my relationships with Failure. When Failure told me its lies I began to question back.
Failure: If you couldn’t make that work then you aren’t going to be able to make anything work.
Me: Is that true? It doesn’t seem true. I have actually been able to make all kinds of things in my life work. In fact, I have been able to make most things in my life work really well.
Failure: Well that was before, this is now. Once you experience Failure life can never be good again.
Me: Never be good again? Surely that can’t be true. It doesn’t seem logical for someone’s life to be 100% terrible or 100% wonderful. Surely something good will happen again. I just need to figure out how to thrive again.
Failure: Forget trying to thrive, you need to focus on how to survive. Arrange your life around avoiding my strike again. You better not try anything new. I will find out.
Me: But if I never try anything new then I will always be….here.
And, here was a place I knew I could not stay. I was going to have to learn to live with Failure, but I knew I had to work to make Failure the best roommate possible. I didn’t want Failure taking over my house and gaining access to everything I did, nor did I want to stick it in the attic, pretend it isn’t there, and give Failure access to all the pipes, wires, and facilities that kept my house running. I knew enough to know that out of sight; out of mind is not an option in regard to my personal pain. Tucking the pain of Failure away would only allow it to wreak havoc in my life in ways I wouldn’t even see until it was too late.
So, I decided to turn Failure the “companion” into Failure the “friend.” I knew Failure could teach me where my weaknesses were-what new traits I needed to learn going forward. Failure helped me push through denial and taught me to deal with the problems I actually had rather than spending all my energy dealing with problems I wish I had. Failure taught me that I didn’t need to learn to be strong enough to take my life; I needed to be brave enough to change my life. Failure taught me to look at things from different angles, to ask questions and to refuse to accept easy answers. Failure had taught me that I had the strength to do hard things, really hard things. And, that for the most part, I could do them with kindness and love.
Failure taught me that one of the greatest things I could do for others is to face my own humanity-to embrace the fact that I wasn’t a superhuman who could avoid things like my own weaknesses and needs. Failure taught me that I could not be anyone else’s savior; nor was anyone else responsible for saving me. Failure knows that we are each responsible for ourselves. Failure taught me that I couldn’t help other people through their pain without compassionately addressing my own pain. I realized Failure had already shown me the difference in an acquaintance and friend. Failure taught me that loving someone is asking their side of the story. Failure had given me the gift of compassion for myself and others. Failure taught me that “perfect” is a myth and the most dangerous humans are those who look as if they have it all together. Failure taught me that I didn’t need everyone to like me or believe me because most humans only want to believe the story that requires the least amount of disruption to their own lives. Failure taught me to keep my mouth shut when I wanted to scream and be kind to others who were not kind to me. Failure showed me there is a huge difference between being polite to someone and being kind to someone. Failure taught me to invest in the people who are investing in me rather than trying to befriend the entire world.
Failure taught me to be my own best friend. In this life, I am guaranteed to always be stuck with myself. So, if there is something I don’t like about my life, then I am the one responsible for changing my life. Failure taught me to find what I am responsible for giving back to the world rather than trying to be everything to everyone in the world-to move forward in confidence with what I am supposed to be doing rather than spinning my wheels on what other people think I should be doing. Failure taught me to like myself, love myself; take care of myself. And, until I could learn those skills I was handicapped in my ability to love and care for others. Failure taught me I was responsible for my actions and emotions. Failure taught me that even Failure could not keep me from success.
Failure had already been with me at the darkest place of my life. I survived. And, I would survive again and again-I had the strength to handle whatever else was going to come my way. Failure asked me “What in your life is working? What isn’t working? What are you going to do to fix it?” Failure taught me to take a chance. I had already survived once, so why couldn’t I survive it again? Failure gave me the determination to keep trying, to keep going, to keep dreaming, to keep loving and to keep succeeding.
Failure brought me peace.
Failure was the worst thing that ever happened to me and the best thing that ever happened to me. Failure is my greatest enemy and, after much work, my greatest friend. Failure didn’t just teach me to Bounce Back-Failure taught me how to Bounce Back Better.