When Something’s Not Working

I get a lot of advice in my Facebook feed and in my inbox. This is what it’s like to be in the self-help industry. The algorithm bots have me all figured out and there’s mountains of well-intended advice, guidance, and helpful tips coming my way all of the time. And I’ve noticed something really interesting.

Failing and Persistence

Many acknowledge the importance of failure as a learning tool and as a measure for the fact that you’re actually doing things, trying new stuff, taking risks. The idea is that we need to stretch ourselves to really find out what we’re capable of and sometimes that means failing.

Doing big things sometimes means failingWhen I was about 6 my Mom enrolled me in swim lessons at the local YMCA. I had some experience swimming (the youngest of 4 can’t really opt out of the pool successfully for long), but really wasn’t to the point where Mom could relax at all, so off to lessons I went. I struggled. I didn’t like the water in my face. I didn’t like the water in my ears. I didn’t like the sounds of the pool when underwater (still don’t, really). I struggled to follow instructions. I struggled to make my limbs (already long and gangly) do what I wanted them to do. But I muddled through the class (having no option). When we tested at the end, the instructor told my Mom that I should not advance to the next level. I was livid. Even at that young age, I had already experienced the joy of making the grade and I was furious that my efforts and struggle had not earned me the rank I believed they deserved. I didn’t really care about the results. I had worked really hard. I had taken a risk. And, at least in my eyes at the time, I had failed. I informed my Mother I would not be taking any more swimming lessons. My mother chose to let that stand. (I can swim, today, just so you don’t worry.) I had stretched. I had struggled. I had failed. And really, except for being angry that afternoon, I was okay. Learning to swim that way, or maybe at that time, or maybe in that timeframe was NOT working for me.

Go Get It!

If my mother and I had followed another constant theme that comes tumbling across my feed, we would have persisted. There is a continual drum banging for persistence in the self-help community. If things aren’t working, you need to keep trying, stick with it, check out your thinking and get back into the arena. Rest for a minute if you absolutely must, and then get to it. Go get it. Do it now. Do it all. Just do it!

Get back in the pool.

Ignore the pounding in your eardrums from the water pressure.

Force a level of physical coordination that is currently not available.

Think positive thoughts!

Stick with it!

What To Do With Failure

Thinking about these two concepts together makes me want to scream at all of the persistence pushers: “What if this is one of those moments you said I would have where the risk I’m taking isn’t working out?” What do I do?  Do I decide that those are all just thoughts I’m telling myself and I need to jump back in, get busy, go get it?

Maybe it’s not the right thing. Maybe I made a bad choice. Maybe instead of going and getting it, I need to take a breath and take in the failure. Maybe I need to acknowledge that this wasn’t the right moment, the right path, the right decision and figure out what there is to learn. Maybe in all of my frenzy to go get it, I forgot to see if “it” was what I really want and need right now. Maybe I ignored signs that were trying to point me in other directions. Maybe I forgot to listen to my feelings, my joy, my inner-most compass in my desire to just do it. Maybe it should really be okay to fail.

When I do decide that some effort of mine is a fail, maybe it’s okay to feel that, to be sad, to acknowledge that I feel foolish or incompetent or far more like a novice than is even remotely comfortable. Maybe when I fail it’s okay to just admit it and breathe and just be as alright as I am or as I’m not without even trying to figure any of it out. Maybe it’s okay to declare what I will or won’t ever do again and slam my door. Maybe I don’t need to do anything.

It's okay to failIf failure is really okay, if it really marks a growing capacity to take risks and stretch our boundaries, we need to accept it when it comes and stop pushing to make it something that it’s not. We don’t need to keep striving to turn it around. We don’t need to go get it. Maybe what we need to do is just don’t “it” for a minute. Just be.

In all of our desire to be better, to do better, to have more, to succeed, maybe failing is a way to take a moment to breathe. And after we’ve caught our breath, we can see what we’ve learned, check in with our hearts, and choose the next big thing. When we’ve taken a moment, we can decide how and when we want to get back in the pool.


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