Failure Happens

I get nervous when I discover new things.

Not particularly because those things rock my world (so much) as I immediately start to wonder how long ago I was supposed to figure this out.

This popped into my novel a couple days ago:

A: I just figured out I’m ‘gifted.’
B: Just now?
A [self-conscious, embarrassed]: Yeah.
B: Maybe you should seek a second opinion.

A new friend mentioned how no one believed her when she said she was afraid she might fail. “Oh no, not you,” was all she heard.

It made me think of a quote I read recently: “I want to die” is often the way of saying “I want the pain to stop”… try, if you can, to respond as though you heard the second statement rather than get caught up in the horror of the first statement.

Not only in writing circles we can trip over the concept of *subtext*. The idea (reality, actually) that what’s being said is not always what’s really being said.

While listening to her story and hearing how utterly unhelpful the friends’ response was, I was embarrassed to realize I would have responded the same way.  It led to my new discovery:

We are (culturally?) conditioned to negate negativity.

When child says I can’t we jump in to say he’s wrong.  Only we do it by saying You can! A child says I’m afraid and we say she’s wrong by insisting, There’s nothing to be afraid of.

An adult friend asks, What if this proves too much for me? and instead of saying, I’ll love you anyway, or, How can I help you feel less overwhelmed? we jump in to remind her of her past competency.

I loved it last week when (in response to I-don’t-remember-what) Jay jokingly misquoted, “Past performance is no indicator of future success.”

“Uh-uh,” I corrected. “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” (He agreed that was the accurate line.)

The past is an indicator, but it can also become a type of impossible standard.

Just because I’ve been relatively competent and self-sufficient much of my life does not mean I’ll never fall apart and call up three different people for help in the same week.

I did!

And I’m so thankful that there are those in my world who hear me when I’m scared or weak. And I’m even thankful for those folks who, even if they don’t particularly seem to believe me, will still come and wash dishes or fold clothes so I can keep my nose above water.


But hearing this friend’s frustration was a good reminder of what I’ve bemoaned lately: What’s so horrible about failure?  Instead of jumping to head every *potential* failure off, I wish we could adopt more of a wait-and-watch approach when we’re not dealing with life-and-death issues.

Yes, this might not turn out so well, or *maybe* it just isn’t what you would choose to do with the same time; but with no heart/soul/mind or body in line to be irreparably damaged, maybe you could just say you’ll love me anyway? No matter what?

That’s what we need to hear most.

Especially when we fail.

2 thoughts on “Failure Happens

  1. I like this post and it is pretty timely too. When I come back from a writers’ conference I’m attending, I’m going to post a guest post from my husband on the subject of perfectionism. He went to the gifted ‘coffee chat’ about giftedness in my place, he took the notes and typed them up for me.

    “We are (culturally?) conditioned to negate negativity.” Yes, I think we are. Positive people are easy to manage. Negative people are not so easy to manage.

    Negative feelings urge us to ask for (or demand) change. Sometimes quietly, sometimes rather explosively. Negative feelings generally have a lot of energy behind them, and it is difficult to work with, which is why people have trouble accepting other people’s negative emotions. I think this is so because inevitably they require extra support – support some people are not equipped to give (because THEY weren’t supported with their negative feelings).

    The problem is that parents may inadvertently teach the kids to bury the negative feelings, or worse, shame them for having them (and sometimes not so inadvertently). This is a bad practice passed down from generation to generation.

    It’s taken a while, and I still make mistakes in this area, but I’m improving the messages I give my kids. And I’m looking for “progress, not perfection.”

    I’m glad my blog post gave you some inspiration.

    Have a great weekend.


  2. So glad you stopped by, Casey.

    I appreciate this observation about negative emotions having more energy behind them– making them more challenging to work with. That view is a helpful framework for me.

    Maybe disliking the higher energy-demand comes out of another assumption (though it would be wishful-thinking based): that is, that people shouldn’t take energy to interact with.

    Granted, I spend the most time with people who energize me, that can only be natural, but I think all of us have people in our lives that pull energy from us instead of the other way around. And maybe accepting that reality would remind up to save or ration some of that preserved and in-coming energy to meet this expected drain– sort of like budgeting for utilities. They’re not glamorous or particularly interesting, but they still have to be paid for.

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