Finding the Gifts in Failure

by Connie

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As a recovering Type-A personality, I’ve struggled with what I call, ‘The Perfection Perception’ for a great deal of my Life.  I was raised in a family that was so far from The Brady Bunch or The Huxtables, that it was unrecognizable.  Intuitively, I know I was in good company; few of us are lucky enough to develop in an environment as supportive and nurturing as television families.

That’s why TV provides such a great virtual escape, for most.   If you come from a dysfunctional family, not to worry…just come join ours for 30 minutes, every Tuesday night.

No real humans you can connect with, in your life?  They’ve got the answer for that, too.  Sit down, relax, and watch ‘Friends’ every Thursday.  You’ll have six companions at the ready, for ten years, no less.

I get it.  Truly, I do.   Immersing one’s self in TV is easier than facing reality.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of retreating to mindless television, too. (Is that last phrase redundant?)  As long as it’s in moderation and as long as you have real support systems and real people that you make genuine and frequent connections with.  But, that’s a topic for another day…

The Birth of Perfectionism

My ‘Perfection Perception’ began incubating at home, as most perceptions do.  I was subtly aware of it, at a very young age.     My parents knew things were not normal, inside our home, and so did all the kids.

However, from the outside looking in, we always looked perfect, as in picture perfect.  I know many of you are nodding your heads, in agreement.

My parents had indoctrinated their kids into the unspoken rules of the family and we learned them well.  Share nothing but the ‘Wins!’  Never speak of what isn’t working.  Never mention the normal obstacles or struggles most families face.  Don’t show any cracks in the foundation, and everything will be fine.  Many of you know the drill.

Out of this experience I became this super-achiever; accomplished and succeeding in most every endeavor I tried.  My plan was to never disappoint my family.  I wore my ‘Type-A’ badge, proudly.

‘Failure was not an option.’  This was a good thing, because the reality was, I hadn’t been well-schooled in how to deal with being sub-standard, or even standard, for that matter.

If I brought home an ‘A’ on a paper or test, it was shoved back into my chest, in disapproving disgust.  The next question my father asked was, ‘How come it wasn’t an A+?’

No matter how hard I tried, I felt I kept falling short of my parent’s expectations.  What was it going to take to earn their acceptance?  I know that’s an age-old melody that has been sung since the beginning of time.  It certainly wasn’t a creative cross, for me to bear.

Father Knows Best?

I recall once having a heated argument with my father.  He got into my face, pointing his finger at me to emphasize his position and then said, ‘I’m 60 years old and I can proudly say that I’ve never made a mistake.’  I leaned in towards him, smiled and said, ‘Congratulations, you just did.’

I had quite the awakening, after that argument.  I learned more about my father in that moment, than ever before.  Was he so arrogant that he truly felt he was above making mistakes?  Did believing that make him feel superior, to the rest of us?

Or, was he so paralyzed by his fear and shame of admitting that he made mistakes that he couldn’t bear to face his truth?

It was enlightening.  I realized, in that instance, that I didn’t want to live my Life under the same spell of his delusions.

Discovering the Gifts

Fast-forward to my adulthood, I’ve had lots of time for introspection, and lots of space away from my family of birth.  Along the way, I’ve done lots of work on ‘my stuff’.

I’ve always known I was raised in that household so I could be exposed to certain Life Lessons.  I’ve accepted it as a wonderful learning opportunity for me, never a curse.

My Life is a classroom, and lessons are presented to me, on a continual basis.  It’s my choice to either excel in them or to opt-out.

I’ve been blessed to learn that making mistakes is a good thing.  And, that failure is an option, because it brings you closer to your truth, whatever that may be.  I’ve always learned more about myself from my failures, than from my successes.

I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not, but our lives are touched and surrounded by what I term, ‘successful failures’ and ‘successful mistakes’.

Let me illustrate a ‘successful failure’.  Look at the track record of one of my most admired historical figures.  Failed in business in ’31.  Defeated for the legislature in ‘32.  Failed again in business in ‘34. Fiancé died in ‘35.  Had a nervous breakdown in ‘38.  Defeated in Congress in ‘43. Defeated in Congress in ‘46.  Defeated in Congress in ‘48.  Defeated for Senate in ‘55.  Defeated for Vice-President in ‘56.  Defeated for Senate in ‘58.  Elected President in ‘60.

That’s quite the track-record, don’t you think?  But he never gave up.  He relentlessly pushed past his failures to step into his greatness.  This man was Abraham Lincoln.

Here are some of my favorite, ‘successful mistakes’.  These are inventions which, luckily for us, didn’t turn out quite as planned: Toll House chocolate chip cookies, Post-it notes, the Slinky and popsicles.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine my life without any of these happy accidents.

I read somewhere that most failures aren’t true failures, after all.  They are ‘expectation failures’; meaning you were expecting one result and you received another.  Was the outcome the failure, then, or just your perceived expectation?  It’s certainly something to think about.

Unearthing My Truths

One of the things I learned from my childhood was to rely upon myself, no matter what I faced.  ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’ has always been a favorite maxim of mine.  My tenacity and perseverance were qualities I’ve mastered due to my experiences, growing up.  They, too, have served me well.

Thankfully, another characteristic my formative years has enhanced was my ability to not only acknowledge my mistakes but to claim my mistakes; to hopefully learn and grow from them and to take responsibility and apologize to others, when appropriate.

This has also brought me to a place of forgiveness, towards myself and others.  Forgiving someone is the most loving gift you can give to you, because it frees you from resentment and negative emotions.

Practicing forgiveness has made me gentler and more open to discovering the true gifts of my failures and my mistakes.  I know I’m not perfect.  The process of forgiveness allows me to uncover and focus on the positive Life Lessons, in any failure or mistake.  My wish for you is that you may be so blessed.

What about you?  Do you find it easy to ‘own’ your mistakes and errors?  Or do you struggle with taking responsibility for your Life Lessons?   Can you forgive others?  Can you forgive yourself?  Which is easier for you to do?

I’d love for you to share your thoughts and feelings with me, by writing back and posting a comment, using the form, below.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Krystyna August 5, 2010 at 8:38 pm

This is so true! A mistake is only a mistake if you learned nothing, and every “failure” just takes you down a different path. Its really up to you how you approach that situation, and even life’s worst failures can lead you to something great. There’s always a silver lining to every situation, you just need to find it and take advantage of it! In my life, I’ve learned far more from my mistakes and failures than I ever have from any success, and those lessons are far more meaningful as well.

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Connie October 21, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Krystyna, Of the many blessings in my Life, I’ve always been able to find the positive, the silver lining or the Life Lesson in every situation. At times, I’ve been chided for my innate ability. That’s okay with me. One of my favorite addages is, ‘No Mistakes, Only Lessons.’ As long as you learn from the situation, pick-up the pieces and move on, you are still moving forward. Connie

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