Tri-Umphant Living

What Does Failure Look Like? Tri-Umphant Living Post #4


Last night as I put my children to bed I was confronted with a sobbing 12-year-old. I tuck Zoe in last and as I went to do so, she was under the covers crying because she was disappointed about a mediocre test grade. A test she didn’t really study for. A test she put off preparing for all last week. We had discussed this as it was happening. I’d point out her inaction and offer to help. She’d acknowledge what she was doing, but still somehow she avoided doing the work. I stepped back. I cannot want something more than she does. Life doesn’t work like that. She has to want it for herself. She has to make that choice for herself.

I had predicted this outcome and it was hard not to wave a finger and get on my soapbox and scream, “I freaking TOLD you so!” But I didn’t. Truthfully there’s nothing to be gained in that; that’s just me responding from a place of fear. So instead I tried to be curious. I really wanted to know how she ended up in this place of feeling so badly.

“It wouldn’t matter if you got a 2 on that test if you had applied yourself. But you didn’t and I’m wondering if that’s where the heartbreak and disappointment stem from? Because you didn’t try.”

Bigger sobs. More tears. Lot’s of nodding, “Yes.” It feels lousy to admit we messed up. Made poor choices. Sold ourselves short. I get that. I do. I think that feels worse than the actual failing — the knowing that we didn’t try.

“You have to put yourself out there,” I said softly. “You have to take risks. You have to try.”

“I know, Mummy,” she said as the tears continued to fall.

“Then why aren’t you?” I asked in a quiet, bewildered voice.

“What if I disappoint people? Or — what if I hurt people’s feelings because I do better than them at something? What if I try so hard and I still don’t do well?”

There is the flip-side to Zoe’s questions. The opposite of worrying about what other people think or caring about other people’s feelings. There is the piece of our life-puzzle that falls under the table and gets carried away by the dog. The looked-over part that is about owning this truth — we are all responsible and accountable for our own feelings and our own well-being.

This is a tough thing to swallow. It places ownership on ourselves for how we are in the world and how we feel in our own skins. It suffocates the desire to blame anyone else and demands that we look at ourselves. Do you squirm when you read that? I’m squirming now because it implies that life is in our own hands. We make the choices. We act or don’t act. We pave the way for ourselves.

If we don’t tend to our own needs and honor our own feelings, we’re not spreading our wings. We’re not testing the water. We’re too afraid to try. And most importantly, we’re not taking care of our whole-selves. We have to take care of ourselves. We must. And yet I find that I need to be very clear with what I’m saying here. I’m not suggesting that we put ourselves first and throw other people under the bus to do so. I’m not. I’m simply saying — listen to your heart, don’t be afraid to follow your passion because if you don’t you will always feel as if a part of you is empty. An empty black hole of desire that brews into resentment if we don’t listen to our own voices. We have so much to say if only we’d honor that authentic inner voice. It’s a beautiful voice. I promise.

We can’t let fear of failure hold us back. In fact, failure looks like not trying. Not getting up. Not showing up. Not bothering to take risks. That to me is failure. 

Honestly, I am afraid every single day. I write something and send it out into the world and then I’m flooded with self-doubt and worry. “What if I disappoint people? What if I do this and I offend someone? What if I risk and I fail?” I’m also nervous before every single workout because I worry I won’t meet my own expectations. Yet somehow I force myself to keep doing these things that matter to me. I have to. If I don’t do them, I’m failing myself because I didn’t try. It’s not easy. It’s actually really scary. But I hope that with practice, risking will become easier.

Maybe Ironman Texas won’t go as I want it to. Maybe the Counter Stool will be a failure. Maybe both. I guess I’m willing to try anyway. With that, Topanga and I are going to go for our trail run. I’m planning to burn through some of my worry and hope for the best.

Take care of yourselves today! Be curious. Listen.

9 replies »

  1. This is such a tough lesson and one I’m still learning. What your daughter said about not trying could’ve come from my mouth at her age. Even more recently, if I’m being honest. When I think back on times when I didn’t put forth a good effort in an attempt to take care of someone else’s feelings (what if I make them feel bad by doing better than them?), I was also trying to serve my own needs. My need to be approved of and liked, mostly. That’s the difference between care taking and taking care. When we care take, we’re doing something to get something back (approval, gratitude, etc.). When we take care, we act out of love and care and aren’t looking for something in return. Selling myself short because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by being more successful than they are is care taking. Helping someone else succeed along with me is taking care. Like you said, we have to take care of ourselves, which puts us on stronger ground to truly take care of others who need us. Beautiful post, Jessica. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love your insight, Karen. And your honesty! So often I find that I’m parenting myself right along with my children. I’m going to use your example with her and with myself too! “When we care take, we’re doing something to get something back (approval, gratitude, etc.). When we take care, we act out of love and care and aren’t looking for something in return.”

      I think another layer of this, this taking care of others so we don’t hurt or upset them is that we protect ourselves. In a way it feels like staying small. If I never try then I’ll never be seen. If I’m not seen, I’m not a threat. I’m not drawing attention to myself. I’m just there, “being good,” and helping everyone else instead of taking care of myself. Instead of risking and trying and living fully. It’s so multilayered … I’m just starting to peel back the layers. Phew!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. oh you were so good to stand back and allow your daughter to find her own answers. So much better than lecturing her and this way she came to the right conclusions and this lesson will stay with her.

    Yes I agree with you, about taking care of people in order to stay ‘small’ it’s a way of being pleasing and obliging without creating waves or disturbing the status quo. This certainly my default position, ‘going along with things,’ ‘sliencing my criticism and disaaproval’ so as not to stand out.

    Yet we deserve to stand out, why the hell not. What makes me or you any less so why do we have to stay hiding. We deserve the attention and we should make our feelings a priority. It may sound selfish but when you have spent your lifetime being small (as I have) it is a necessary liberation. Beautiful thought provoking post thank you!


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