reflection

Failure Friendly

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It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. —J.K. Rowling

The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as the lack of success in doing or achieving something. Really! Somehow, with so much emphasis placed upon not failing in our world, you would think they would come up with something more pronounced than that. If that’s what it is, who doesn’t fail, not once but dozens of times every day? I didn’t brush my teeth twice today, I ran two not three miles. I didn’t clean the house, wash the car, read 50 pages from the book I committed to wade through, meditate, and stop eating yogurt! Some days it seems that I don’t achieve anything that I committed to do! Does that make me a failure?

There is such emphasis upon hiding the “don’t be’s” that the things you achieve get overlooked or minimized. You did put your goals down on paper. You did run two of the three miles on your goal sheet. You did brush your teeth one time of the twice-a-day goal. You did read 10 of the 50 pages you committed to read. While there are many things you can do to adjust your focus, strategy, and effort to achieve more, you are less likely to maintain perspective without a more friendly view of the word failure.

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of Major League Baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out 1700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these commonplace experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and create a meaningful perspective from his experience of professional failure.

Here are a few things to reflect on when addressing failure in life.

1. Everyone experiences daily failure. It is one of the common threads of everyday living.

2. Make sure you underscore what you did do when you highlight what you didn’t.

3. Fail forward. Wallowing in the mud of failure only gets you more muddy and in need of a bath.

4. Take time to grieve. It’s a bummer to come up short after all that effort! Feel shitty! Embrace the bitterness, anger, disappointment, and emptiness that come with failed results. Express it fully! Philosophical reflection can come later.

5. Funnel your grief into action. Don’t act prematurely. When you embrace your feelings around failure, you will know when it’s time to get off your duff and act. Don’t allow negative self-talk to stymie your view of future destiny. Most achievements are completed amidst the roar of negative talk from the conniving inner critic that attempts to sabotage destiny. Learn to ignore the negativity within like an athlete learns to block out the hostile heckles and catcalls in a stadium.

6. Be a heart champion. Model how to go from blight to beauty. Know that failure is a part of life. Determine never to let an outcome define who you are. Instead, let your definition be determined by the vision of destiny you have within that supersedes any result.

7. Chisel out a North Star focus. Cultivate support from others around you to maintain an “eye of the tiger” pursuit of your purpose and plans of fulfilling your destiny.

8. Re-define prosperity. Rather than scaling back your vision, transcend your pursuit and go beyond concrete results that ultimately you don’t control. Embrace the unconditional confidence that no matter what you experience, you can go down and come back up.

9. Clarify what growth means toward the goal you seek to achieve. There are many definitions of growth. If you only know growth by measuring the end result, you will miss the incremental steps that are necessary to get to the end result. Carefully clarify each step needed in your journey. It will help you to enlighten what you can and cannot control.

Strength and inspiration come through the experience of failure by sharing and connecting with the human spirit of others. You will experience a genuine depth of human connection when you learn to stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort triggered by failure. The human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform agony into poise and healing peace when the discomfort and heartache of failure is embraced and shared.

Your Feelings and Thoughts Do Make a Difference

READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.

Addicts are vulnerable. They don’t know how to recognize or manage feelings, particularly strong and powerful ones. What they do know is to split off from their feelings and pretend they are just fine. Once I was sitting at a wedding reception and a clergy colleague who sat next to me began talking.   He had a close friend who was also clergy and was allegedly run out of his church because of a trouble-making family who accused him of sexual abuse. What he didn’t know is that the accusatory family was mine, and I was one of the family members that was abused. I wanted to kill him on the spot. But, I didn’t. What I did was smile and become quiet. I think I excused myself to go to the bathroom. 

Addicts are pretty good with these splits. When they are hurt, numbed with shame, seething with resentment, or dominated with anger or hate, they know how to compartmentalize their feelings and pretend they are not there. They use this ability to manage and control their environment that is unsafe. The problem is that inwardly they lose themselves by failing to recognize their effect. They drown in the feelings that were triggered or go to great lengths through maladaptive behavior to avoid their emotions. Addicts learn to avoid the obvious and embrace the improbable.

They live in a constant state of vulnerability not knowing how to recognize or manage the feelings that have been buried. They are unable to draw from their own internal resources because there aren’t any. They remain in constant need of self-regulation resources. They think the resources are external.  It’s a fantasy that is never realized. Since painful, rejecting, and shaming relationships are the cause of their deficits in self, they cannot turn to others to get what they need or have never received. With few other options addicts turn to their drug of choice. Why, because the dopamine rush delivers what it promises. To get away from the hell of the pain that slaps them around. Any reason is a good reason to use. 

Drugs of choice migrate.  Addicts might find a way to shut down their use of heroin, booze, crystal, molly, or blow.  They just migrate to the next fix. It can be anything including workaholism, exercise, food disorder, rage, and even caretaking. It is common for recovering addicts to create a new cocktail for their choice of drug. It will always be that way until they get to the root cause of needing a fix. Here are a few things to consider.

1. Understand your pain. Slow your life to a pace that you go inward and embrace what hurts. Dare to embrace average. Go inside to the common places of your life and face what you feel. None of us got through our childhood unscathed. There you will find the wounds that need to be scrubbed. It hurts but you are already in pain. Why not make your hurt a healing hurt rather than wallowing in pain that never stops looking for a fix that is never enough.  You must resolve the pain and stop pretending.

2. Learn to regulate your emotions. Practice recognizing what you feel, particularly the powerful feelings of shame, resentment, anger, and hate. Learn to sit with them and experience embracing unwanted emotions and notice that you can get through them without having to numb out. You will need help. Step outside yourself and ask for that help even though it feels awkward.

3. Utilize others for support. Finding your tribe for support is important. This is a long-term problem for addicts in recovery. When in crisis, addicts surrender to a 12-step fellowship. Often, they don’t go deep in a consistent manner to live in consultation with accountability about their feelings. You will need help holding your feet to the fire about relationship issues. Addicts often focus on the fundamentals of 12-step work in order to address their drug of choice. But many miss out by not using that same support to regulate their feelings in other aspects of living. It is important to utilize your community of support around the feelings that come up in your everyday relationship life.

4. Become an observer of what you think about your own thinking and learn how to reflect on the mind of another. Learning to manage your emotions is necessary to understand your thoughts about yourself and the world around you. People tend to be insular. Life becomes a mind-numbing hamster wheel in that we just do what we do. Take time to pause and observe what you feel. Utilize contemplation. Think about your thoughts. Learn to identify and give voice to the different parts of your mind that are contradictory to other parts. Learn to sift and sort by listening and recognizing the truth that is in each thought. Then practice integrating your thought discrepancies with your own wise mind. It is necessary to transform behavior. Emotional maturity and secure attachment are capacities to reflect on your own internal emotional experience and to make sense of it. It includes being able to observe and reflect on the mind of others and connect with them. The way you read others is important. It begins with learning to manage and make sense of your own affect and thoughts.  

Managing your feelings and thoughts creates self-agency. Developing emotional management is necessary in cultivating a true sense of self. When you don’t you foster a false sense of self which blinds your awareness of feelings and thoughts. It further darkens your understanding of ways in which your behavior hurts yourself and others. 

Oh! By the way, I did circle back with the insensitive clergy colleague and insist that he listen to the gory details of sexual molestation by his clergy friend toward me and my family. Though he was stunned with silence, he heard the other side of the story. I have since wondered if that did not change the way he shared the narrative with others.

People, Possessions, and the Pursuit of Perspective

“We are less than a speck in the vast universe and beyond, and yet an unrepeatable miracle in the universe–If you cannot connect to this reality you will live a disillusioned life.”— KW

Once I toured a home owned by a friend that was massive. It had several thousand square feet of almost anything you could imagine. As the owner gave me his personal tour, we came to a large bedroom that was in a remote area of the house. I said to him “I bet you have never been in this room before.” He said “You’re right”. He essentially spent his time in three rooms: his massive master bedroom, his bathroom, and the kitchen where his chef made his food.

There is just so much space you can occupy as a human being. Even when you want a large footprint, you cannot be everywhere at once. It has been my experience that the older you get, your world begins to shrink and you need less space. You stop wanting to manage the demands of upkeep. The idea of living in multiple homes becomes a hassle. It is no longer peaceful but triggers inner discord and disharmony. So you downsize–or maybe the better description would be right size.

Possessions and ownership are interesting concepts about life. We think we own the land that we took from Native Americans. We think we have proprietary rights to property and own the possessions we have. Technically and legally we do in the here and now. Yet, in reality, we don’t own anything. Someday, sooner or later, we will give it all back. Some entity will take over assets, property, investments, and positions of power that you once thought were yours. You and I will fade into the annals of time, never to be remembered. Some day the land our forefathers fought for will be occupied by other people. It could be a new generation of Native Americans who retake possession of our land! Possessions are transitory. Someday the Grim Reaper will unceremoniously call your name and announce you are done on this earth. Your body will become the vegetative fungus that feeds the plant life and your spirit will be a part of the uncertainty of afterlife. In the end, you will not own anything.

Here are some observations that recovery living offers about possessions:

1. Relinquish, release, and refocus: Letting go of the treasures of life is its own treasury. The dearest things in life cannot be owned, but only shared. You might own your car, your vacation property, and your electronic devices. Yet, you cannot own the love or the energy of life that flows through your heart and makes life meaningful. Relinquish your grip on making things “mine” and the secret desire to get what others have. Release your clasp to fame and fortune that will fade and rust. Refocus and make good use of the possessions you have. Prioritize giving yourself as a benefit for the next generation.

2. The here and now is all you have: Gurus and philosophers have reflected for centuries on the importance of the present moment. Current guru Eckhart Tolle emphasizes this in his best-selling book, The Power of Now. The capacity to reflect upon the past and to plan for the future is unique to our species. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “Life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. While true, all we can be is in the here and now. Storing possessions for future pleasure or living in the memory of past glories only creates an illusion of detachment from the present moment.

3. Connecting to everyday experiences in life transforms your perspective about your possessions. To live relentlessly in the small everyday experiences creates great strength. It won’t be all of your possessions that inspire but the everyday acts of love that create meaningfulness in life. Mother Teresa framed everyday acts of love in this way, “Sometimes you think that what you are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Possessions shrink in importance in the presence of practicing acts of love. The changes in your life that you aspire will not be manifested by prioritizing your possessions. They will become visible in obscure places where you practice acts of kindness. They will likely become transformative and evidenced in the generations that follow. Like an old Native American reflection, “You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers, so that they will respect the land. Tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.” The power of perspective about things we possess come from reflections about the past. Future aspirations toward love and peace germinate from the common experiences of everyday living.

Nostalgic Blues

Snowfields blanket the landscape for miles and miles
Quiet Solitude tugs at memories burned deep within
Spring seeds planted
fruit ripens in the blink of an eye
Heads shake with disbelief how things used to be
Protests spontaneous-
Unrest and violence with no relief
A rich man’s war drew rebellion
Returned soldiers chided and booed
The Establishment triggered revolution
We gave it the finger
Took over buildings
Smoked dope and got high
Dylan crooned “times are a changin’-
They did until they didn’t
greed came back like an old familiar friend
We took back the finger
Stuff became God again
Blues and rock
Jazz and Motown
Country and disco, too
Soothed the pain of reality
History made, booked, and shelved
Did it matter?
Kennedy, Malcom, and Martin
Heroes wasted?
Religion tried to steal reality
With end times prophecy
And a promise of prosperity
But greed took over the dance floor
halves had more and have-nots less
Hell, not heaven became actuality
Promised “could’a-beens” thumbed through the Rolodex of time-
So close, yet so far away!
Where was I? Where were you?
So it goes with nostalgic blues.
-KW-

As you can tell I grew up in the ’60’s. Many of you read about what some of us lived. Long hair, commune living, a lot of pot and acid, Volkswagen buses tattooed with bumper stickers, and hitchhiking to nowhere highlighted an era of time that triggers nostalgia for those who lived through this epic era time. Oh yeah, don’t forget Steppenwolf, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Stones, and Judas Priest. Reminiscing the 60’s would be incomplete without including these hard rock bands.

Most living Americans have not experienced the cultural 60’s. The majority of those who have are now dead. Those among the living who have are often triggered by nostalgic memories. How could you not? It was such an intense time in America.

That said, every other era in American history has been equally intense, too. The speed of change in today’s era is unprecedented. There were far fewer genres of music in the 60’s than there are now in 2020’s. Television has dramatically changed. The list of change is endless. It’s easy to get caught in a time capsule.
People say kids today are not what they used to be. Of course, they are not because today’s kids were not born back then. Some say they would hate to have to raise kids in today’s world. They said that about kids back when I was growing up!

Nostalgia triggers reflection and yearning for what used to be but no longer is. It can be fun! Throwback experiences bring back yesterday once more.
Nostalgia is a universal experience. Some people get stuck in yesterday, seeking an illusive security that really never existed. Others attempt to seal tight the past and never explore its meaningfulness out of a fear of further pain. Kierkegaard, the existentialist wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backwards”. He, no doubt, was nostalgic. The question is how to look back, gain necessary insight and move forward without getting stuck in yesterday. Here are a few considerations:

1. Shape your identity with inside values separate from outside influence. Everyone is influenced by outside social behaviors. Entrepreneurs are experts with understanding modernity and social trends that impact what we buy, where we go, and why we behave in certain ways. That said, personal values require introspection about a compendium of life experience. Within this individual anthology, each person is responsible to create heartfelt beliefs fueled with conviction to guide and shape what matters to you in the world around you. It’s easy to connect to what charismatic friends think and do. Hashtag jingoes and witticisms are energetic and influence how you choose to engage the world. Motivated by emotional response, it is tempting to embrace and declare resolute truth without digging deep within your own brilliance to clarify symbol and substance to navigate through social pressure. Groupthink often blunts personal creativity and hampers individual responsibility. It has always been easier to go along to get along for addicts. Dysfunctional families subtly adopt the mentality of ignoring the dead dog in the middle of the room. Dysfunction in families emasculates and indirectly shapes family members to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious. Individuation is necessary to the formation of identity. It is common to adopt other people’s dogma for living without going deep within in order to know what it means to be true to your own heart. We learn to do this through others role-modeling this process, thus the value of a mentor, sponsor, and parent. Nostalgia beckons that we go back to how things used to be. Sometimes this is good. Other times nostalgia proves shallow and ineffective to current times. Ultimately you are the leader you are looking for. There are no gurus. You are it for you!

2. Nostalgia signals a need for further grief work. Life is a constant flux. In the 70’s Karen Carpenter sang ‘Lookin’ back on how it was in years gone by and the good times that I had, makes today seem rather sad—so much has changed”. There is a certain elusive quality with nostalgic memories. It never really was what you make up yesterday used to be. There are fond memories of days when things were more simple. Electronic technology has eclipsed former times that relied upon manual operations. Do you really want to go back to those days when you balance the pros and cons with the here and now? Even if you do, you can’t! While you can sing about yesterday once more— it’s over, never to be repeated again. Nostalgia signals the need for grief work. Letting go of what used to be is unappealing. Nostalgia is a feeling experience that reminds us that we must let go of what we cannot control, the passing of yesterday. Grieving is a life-long experience that most dread and avoid. However, when you lean into nostalgia, embrace its purpose to grieve the loss of what used to be, it opens the door to wonders that exist in the here and now! It does not eliminate the pain that comes with the loss, but, it does ignite the hope of current possibility.

3. Make it a practice to give up the storyline. Nostalgic memories carry a storyline. Trauma fuels nostalgic memories that house mistaken beliefs about self and the world around you. I have listened to many people share nostalgic experiences that unfold hurtful messages. I hear talk about being on the outside of the bubble looking in! Some lament that they never measured up! Other nostalgic experiences trigger thoughts that if you know what I know about me, you would reject me too! They are all inaccurate speculations. When you believe you are on the outside of the bubble looking in, just create a new bubble with you in the center! If others get to know your heart as you do they would be drawn closer to you, not further away. Create your own measure stick that begins with you being enough! Addressing nostalgia means that you will need to let go of the storyline that emasculates and minimizes your sense of self. Enjoy past memories that trigger awareness of fun experiences with people you enjoyed. Allow sadness or painful awareness to be present about hard times experienced. Then let go of the experience, good or bad and create a new storyline that champions personal empowerment and belief that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe destined to transcend yesterday into something much more in the here and now.