Some words are pretty innocuous, and don’t create a lot of heart-reaction.
Dish, for instance. Or paper. Or flagellum (except for certain research scientists, perhaps, or microbiology majors studying for a final exam).
But “failure” comes with a lot of emotional baggage. It is freighted with meaning, usually negative, and often speckled with the unique memories of individual stumbles of the past, best left undisturbed under layers of busy forgetfulness.
Who wants to dwell on failure? Some, however, compulsively cannot stop doing so. Failure is the elevator speech of their soul. Maybe not outwardly. But inwardly, the monologue goes like this: You’re a failure. You’re a failure. You’re a failure. A bit short on eloquence, I’ll grant. But long on effectiveness. Wear it with…humiliation, like a black t-shirt that refuses to come off.
“Failure” can be a useful term, when viewed through the correct lens. But it can also be a deadly cataract, a slayer of personal ambition and esteem, when it infuses the cornea of its wearer with dark shades that distort and dim the entire landscape. The optometrist can fix up nearsightedness with a corrective prescription. But this kind of emotional astigmatism needs a different treatment plan.
“That was a failure” can be a learning moment. When the thought of the heart is “I am a failure” – that’s when you’re in the danger zone. The trick is to openly acknowledge the one, while not slipping down the slope into the other. “I failed at _____ this time” might lead to a little laceration above the eye. “I’m a loser” is the knockout punch.
No-one escapes failure. If you’re not failing at something, then you’re not trying. Our little ones “fail” constantly as they learn to take their first steps, but we don’t consider them failures – we know that each failure gets her closer to success. So why would our mistakes and failings make us failures? If we’re not good at one thing at one time, does that mean we’re no good…period?
That attractive, successful, vivacious person you wish you were like? That person fails miserably, in many ways – you just don’t see it through the idealized and envious glasses you’ve put on. But sometimes, those very people who seem to have it all are haunted by an inner conviction that they are utter failures. Like a gnawing cancer, that deep and dangerous conviction chews at the soul, magnifying each little individual stumble into yet another prosecutor on the bench, spilling out the evidence that you are not merely human, but an absolute fraud. That’s not sound judgment or conscience speaking. It’s Cupid’s alter ego, firing hateful arrows from a never-empty quiver.
Then life becomes about one of two things. Shrinking back into despair. Or driving forward against the emotional tidal wave to prove yourself. In both cases, however, the engine that drives it is not, “I failed at something – now what can I learn?” It’s not, “How can I make this right?” It’s far more insidious. “See – I’m just a failure.”
Failure. Roll the word over in your mind – doesn’t it have an inescapable finality about it? And isn’t it, when you step back a bit, kind of a stupid nickname to give yourself? With all the unique gifts and abilities you possess, all the good you can do for the people around you – to wallow around in self-accusing misery is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because then you won’t feel like getting up again.
How do we still that voice? Here’s a suggestion, which you might want to try out this week. Just alter the word a bit – a little tiny bit, hopefully staying under the radar of our word police. “I’m a fail-er.” Just drop the accusing “you” from the pronunciation, and suddenly, it really doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, it sounds a lot like being just another member of the human race. A fail-er. A fail-er can get up again and keep going, because…well, that’s what we do, from infancy on. Fail. Learn. Move forward.
I’m a fail-er, then. Hmmmmm – that sounds kind of…normal, all of a sudden. Might not even hesitate to wear it on a t-shirt, with that little spelling switcheroo. So what do you think – which word describes you? Are you a Failure, or a Fail-er?
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