Failure is a funny thing. There are failures that others can easily see and label as failures. There’s forgetting all your content for a major presentation only to end up visibly shaking like a leaf in front of 75 people (yup, I’ve definitely done that). There’s falling on your ass on a hiking trail in front of four very handsome mountain men (done that too). There’s sending an email containing highly confidential information to the wrong person (yup, that was also me). It’s no doubt that these types of failures can be tough pills to swallow. After all, they’re out there for everyone to see and judge.
Still, there are failures that I find even worse than public failures. My least favourite failures are largely invisible to the world around me, yet somehow weigh far more heavily on me. These are failures of my own unmet expectations. Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of seemingly countless invisible failures. Objectively, you’d look at my life and think I’ve got it together. I have a good network of friends. I have what appears to be a good career. I fit in six workouts a week (well, most weeks). I even bring a damn home-made salad to work every day for lunch! But make no mistake, though it looks like everything’s relatively together even to those closest to me, I still feel like I’ve let myself down in so many areas of my life over the last few months.
These days, the palpable sense of failure is most prominent to me in my career. Last week I made a major decision to leave my job (yet again). It’s a job I just started a month ago, but which I knew all along was not a good fit for me. Not only did I have a significant error in judgment taking this last role, but I also spent a whole year in my previous role (where I was also unhappy) failing to think about what I wanted next. To add insult to injury, I then squandered eight weeks of paid time off without challenging myself to think more broadly about my career. No one else expects me to do that. As far as most are concerned, as long as I’m surviving financially, it’s up to me to figure this stuff out. I’m the one who goes to bed every night feeling like I’ve failed. I’ve failed to get clear on what I do best. I’ve failed to define a career path that makes use of what I do best. I’ve failed to live up to what I believe I’m capable of. Failure, failure, failure.
Unfortunately, it’s not just work where I’m feeling this. I feel it with my blog, too. No one cares if I write five posts a week, of that I am sure. It was a personal commitment that I made when I started this, part of my effort to write more. I have let that slip. I have made excuses. It’s always “I have plans tonight” or “I’m so tired” or “I’ll write two posts tomorrow”. The net result is the same regardless of the excuse: I haven’t been writing enough nor have I been writing enough content that I’m proud of. Some days I whip off a post in 30 minutes while I’m eating lunch at my desk on a topic that I’m not particularly passionate about. Again, likely no one else can tell the difference, but I can. And I care about this blog. I care about my writing. I enjoy it a lot more than my actual job. That’s why it feels like such a failure on my part.
I even feel like a failure in my friendships. I’ve been so tired and so irritable lately that, most of the time, I want to do nothing more than go home and curl up on the couch after work. I haven’t been making an effort to reach out to friends. I haven’t been making plans. I haven’t been keeping in touch. I am not putting the effort in. My friends who know me well know this is a pattern of mine when I get in a funk, so they likely don’t think of it as me failing them. What I know (and deeply believe) to be true, though, is that we all have our shit to deal with in life and there’s value to spending time with friends even when the urge to hermit is ten times stronger. So when I hermit, I feel like I’m failing my friends.
And lest it go unnoticed, I also feel like a big old failure with my health. I have a high standard for my fitness goals but I’ve used my injury as a crutch for the last couple of months. I have avoided pushing myself in my workouts. I haven’t even attempted to regain any lost endurance. I have skipped workouts entirely when I feel too tired. Worst of all, when I’m stressed, I let go of all my healthy eating habits. Sugar has wormed it’s way back in far larger quantities. It’s a downward spiral. Again, no one else really cares if I am actually hard-core training, and certainly no one’s going to say anything about my eating habits (for fear of incurring my wrath), but I know I’m letting myself down.
So there you have it. That’s a lot of me feeling like I’m failing. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t share this as a cry for help, nor because I’m in some sort of dark spiral. In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about all of this right now. So I share this because I think we can all identify with questioning our success, with feeling like we aren’t living up to our own standards, with knowing deep down that we are taking the easy way out. I think we can identify with the fact that it can be hard to let others into the fold when we see ourselves as failing. We keep things insular and it can be harder to objectively see that much of this invisible failure is invisible for a reason: it’s failure of our own creation.
When I actually realized that I was feeling like a failure in so many areas of my life, it was remarkably freeing. By labelling the feeling as failure, it allowed me to question what I could be learning from each of these perceived failures. Yeah, it’s cheesy I know, but I work in adult learning so I get to be a little self-indulgent with this stuff. Cheesy or not, reframing the experience of failure helped me move from a place of discouragement and negativity to a place of hope and patience.
In my work, I learned that I can make what I thought was an impossible decision and come out on the other side legitimately excited to feel afraid. With my blog (and my health, for that matter), I’ve learned that I need to give myself the flexibility to let other things in life come first when they need to, but also that my excuses are sometimes ways to avoid processing things (in other words, the more tired I feel, the more I should probably be writing…or working out). In my friendships, I’ve learned that I still have trouble being open about my state of mind and really leaning on the people around me when I need them most. But with all of this in mind, I can feel the tides turning and I can also see some ways forward. And that is why I share this: there is hope on the other side of failure.