Beauty in: Failing Early & Often
Each month, our friends at Moment Meditation host an evening of meditation, reflection, & conversation. Precisely; A night to cut the small talk in order to dive deep. This month, a question to guide our feelings: In a world full of highlight reels & social media, how do we talk about, embrace, and share stories of failure without shame?
I can't remember the last time I talked about failure for an extended period of time. At the meet up, we discussed our own failings, what they felt like, and how they affect us all differently. We decided to gaze upon failure from a personal level: relationships, jobs/grades, and expectations. Later, we had a five minute interlude to meditate on what failure means on a world scale: touching on mental health, the space in which we live, and having empathy for others who are different from us. We only talked for an hour, which isn't enough time to tackle something as complicated as failure, but we started the conversation and that's good enough.
In the spirit of continuing this conversation you will find below the questions we used as a starting point for our discussions as well as my own answers to them. Hopefully they'll help you find your own feelings, and shape your understanding of what it means to fail.
1. What does failure feel like?
Failure feels like holding onto an idea, belief, or value that no longer serves me. Refusing to move forward when going back will only damage me. Giving proof that I will let people down. Knowing and understanding what I have to do and not doing it because I don't believe I'm adaquete enough. Giving up. Hiding under the covers. A missed shot. Falling. A day spent in bed. A denial of someone's humanity. Tricked. Being unworthy.
Failure feels like a part of the process. Risk. A time to take stock. Reflection. Catching my breath. Chipping away. That something good will come from this. A starting point. The way through.
2. What stories about failure were you taught growing up?
The first models I had of how to deal with setbacks, as with most kids, were superheroes. The entire format of the 1960's Batman television show had Batman and Robin captured by the villain at the end of one episode, only for them to escape and triumph over evil the next. Batman internalized his failures and used them as fuel. Spider-Man used humour to disarm his and keep plugging along, one day at a time. What these archetypes failed to teach me is that these traits and qualities are not given. They are honed and discovered through reflection and continuous work. I wish I had realized that not everyone deals with failure - and by extension, trauma - the same way.
I have a hard time getting out of my own head. When I was younger at the end of basketball practices our team would always try and hit shots from half court. Everyone on our team would heave the ball; most of them missed. As for me? I never tried. My dad would ask me on the way home why I'd never shoot. I'd shrug my shoulders and stay silent. The truth is I didn't want to miss or embarrass myself. This - basketball - was something I was good, at or at least supposed to be good at. I felt like I would no longer hold value if I couldn't do something as silly as make a half court shot...that my teammates would think I sucked and wouldn't like me anymore. From grade 3 - 9 I never shot it. I told myself I wasn't ready, I wasn't strong enough. Because I never tried, I had no way of proving myself wrong, of allowing myself to get stronger. The Lesson: always shoot your shot. The world doesn't end after one miss.
3. How do you overcome failure?
In the perfect world: I reflect. I ask myself for what I need. I lean on friends. I put in work. I change and grow.
But, life is never this linear.
What generally happens: I shut myself out from my world. I go through life with clenched fists as if they're armour against everything. I shut down, I don't communicate, and nothing gets better. Instead of working or getting up I'll bury myself in an endless loop of YouTube videos I've seen countless times. During these times failure feels like having the same conversation over and over again and I never say anything.
That's the thing about failure it happens when you live and try. It sucks a lot of the time but it's never the end unless you die or the world explodes. People get stuck in different places, I'm always unsure if I should take the first step. I'm too worried about what will people think, will they hate me, and will I hate myself. I don't even get to the part of the process where I get to fail. Isn't this the greatest failure I can grant myself?
I don't have all of the answers for these questions. I didn't talk about expectations with you all; exploring the different experiences and situations where one might feel like they've failed. I didn't explore the various ways success and failure tie together and how that's rooted into our Western values and beliefs. I didn't mention when it's okay to let go of a goal and move on. And other countless topics we could explore given the time in this messy and deep topic of failure.
At the start of our meditation before our discussion Anita (Moment's fearless Founder) shared an anecdote, describing what happens when people learn to walk. During this process every person who has ever lived falls down over and over again but we don't ever give up on walking - we persist. If we did not, some of us would be crawling, still, throughout the course of our lives. It's a nice reminder that in most of the things we will try in life, we will fail at, in our initial attempts. We can only improve through persistence.
My biggest takeaways from the night were these:
I have to learn how to face my discomfort with the feeling of failure.
I have to accept that I will fail over and over again in my life.
I have trust myself to want and put in the necessary work to improve, learn, and grow.
I don't want to crawl. I don't have to walk.
I can run.