27 Jun a few truths
Parenthood has taught me a lot about failure.
My two girls both potty trained in 3 days at two and a half years old. I knew how to do it. It wasn’t complicated. If you followed a plan and were consistent – it was straight forward. Then came Ed and after four months of attempting to potty train, for his third birthday I gave him the gift of nappies (again). My early experience and success had made me some what cocky, and probably if i am honest, a little judegmental of all those who couldn’t get this basic parenting rite-of-passage sorted and completed with minimal fuss and mess. I felt incredibly frustrated and slightly embarrassed that i hadn’t ‘sorted’ this sooner.
Ed taught me a slow grace (and a dose of humility). That children are different, they develop at different rates, that i needed to give up on my expectations that I could ‘fix’ the things they were finding difficult with a good strategy and hard work.
Career wise it is hard not to feel like a bit of a failure. I am a theatre director. But when I say that i normally follow it up with, ‘…well… sort of, I’ve been quite busy with small people,… I’m kind of still starting out…. twelve years later… at the age of 34’. I make excuses because i am comparing myself with where I feel I should be at. Where i fear other people will think i should be at.
I could re-frame the whole thing. Call myself an artist. Put less focus on a ‘successful outcome’ in terms of reviews, ticket sales, peer and critical acclaim. I could tell the truth, which is that I have so many stories still to tell, that i am sure i am going to make work of great beauty… and all my work to date is moving towards that point. And as i move towards that, the journey has had some pretty great moments too.
The most visceral confrontation with failure has to be coming to terms with being diagnosed with a mental health problem. Initially i saw depression and anxiety as something to be ashamed of. As though they betrayed some inner weakness. In my anxious times it is hard not to feel as though I am failing. The inability to engage with life as I would like, to have adventures with my children, or eat out with my husband, has made me feel ashamed. As though i am somehow inferior because i am not as strong or resilient as the next person.
(it’s okay, i know this is bullshit too).
But ultimately it is this need to succeed. To not be seen as someone who fails, or certainly to not admit to it which is the source of all the problems. When I hold SUCCESS as the goal. When i focus my energy on trying harder, doing more… I am shooting myself in the foot. As i heard someone say recently, our self-salvation projects are like repeatedly asking a one legged man to jump higher.
It isn’t success we should be striving for… it’s freedom.
Whisper it quietly because the world doesn’t want to hear it. We are instructed to consume to make us feel like we are accepted. To connect with the right people to make us feel we belong. To work hard to gain respect. To put the serious effort in to make sure we look right, speak right, behave right.
As though our un-refined selves are somehow not going to pass the grade.
We think we will feel ‘right’ with the world once we have sorted our relationships, progressed our career, fixed our children, modified our behaviour.
But what about if we just gave up. If we stopped trying so hard to comply with our own unrealistic expectations, and the expectations we think those around us are looking to us for. If we worried less about how we are perceived and worried more about enjoying being in this moment. If we worried less about those people who choose not to understand us, or to judge us and just sought out the people of peace who love us despite all the stuff we get wrong.
What about if we embraced failure? Instead of playing it safe for guaranteed modest results, in terms of approval or acceptance, we risked big. We ran after the things that bring us joy and didn’t care how silly we looked doing it.