Flailures: When Failing Feels Like Flailing.

Flailures: When Failing Feels Like Flailing.

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“Fail,” in all its incarnations, wasn’t a word used often in my house growing up. I’d love to attribute 100% of this to my parents and their excellent leadership skills, but I think a big reason we didn’t use the word because we didn’t use it in school. While kids on tv shows would stress about Straight As and moan if they “flunked” a class, my elementary school worked with an entirely different system:

E = Excellent
G = Good
S  = Satisfactory
N = Not Satisfactory

My first real introduction to Failure was in middle school, in seventh grade I remember thinking of how mean that was, to use such a harsh word to describe someone’s work and worth.

But this is usually our first exposure to the concept of failure, right? Not doing well in a class, with a final hard-stop grade at the end telling you so. No second chances, no helpful notes...just a big, red F.

I’m obsessed with words, so I did us the favor of looking up “fail” in the dictionary. What I found was not one, not two, but THIRTEEN definitions of the word. I was going to be all clever in this post and string together some prose turning the definition on its head, but honestly…thirteen????????????

When I switched from the E-N system to an A-F one in seventh grade, I was beyond frustrated. As a star student obsessed with learning, this was just WRONG. A bad grade just means there are things I need to work on! A bad grade just means my work isn’t satisfactory YET!

But that’s not the system I was in anymore. I made up words to coincide with the letters, since that’s what I’d been used to, and it made the transition easier. But the only ones I could think of for D and F were “Dunce” (remember the cone cap kids would wear in Saturday morning cartoons when they acted up in class?) and “Fail.” They became dirty words meant to shame and scare me.

Fear of failure is what stops most of us in our tracks while we’re on our personal quest towards self-actualization. We get hung up on the idea of failure and what we’ve been taught it represents: being less-than, being “the loser,” being robbed of something and left empty-handed. Failure, we’re taught, is a hard stop. And those outdated definitions are what get us stuck, what keep us from being fulfilled, and what make us put limits our own possibilities and potential.

But if I’m reading them right, almost HALF of those thirteen definitions involve something other than a locked door or closed chapter. Definitions like “losing strength,” “falling short,” and, my favorite, “to disappoint the expectations or trust of someone or something.” These aren’t hard stops – these are all fixable. These aren’t red lights – they’re yellow.

Failing can feel like flailing, and flailing means you’re being blown by the wind into your next adventure. #flailures Click To Tweet

Think about the last time you “failed” at something. How did it feel? Try to take out the shame or anger…what are you left with?

A lot of times, failing can feel like flailing. I’ve talked about this before: how being an adult is a graceful flail of grasping for certainty and being at peace with not knowing all the answers.

And so I’d like to propose that most of the things you call FAILURES aren’t really FAILURES at all: They’re FLAILURES.

Because failing can feel like flailing, and flailing means you’re being blown by the wind into your next adventure.

Are there still things that are failures? Of course. But the blanket term “failure,” with all its thirteen-plus definitions, doesn’t apply to every single thing that doesn’t work out. A meme of Jackass-proportions (remember that show??) paired with a big bold Sans Serif EPIC FAIL is not the same as being rejected by a book agent (hello and welcome to my home, so glad you could make it). Red light, yellow light. A fail is a hard stop. A flail keeps going.

Sure, I still get scared of failing – or, rather, the Ghost Worry that I’ll do something to feel ashamed of later. But in the thick of that fear, I remind myself that I’ve got this. I remind myself that I’ve never felt right about something that’s wrong, or wrong about something that’s right. I listen to my gut and I act. I might be too much for some, but I am always just right for me…whatever that looks and feels like, whether I’m aware of it or not. I’m on a very specific path that’s all my own, and those little sparks of fear are signals that I’m about to hit another benchmark.

I just need to let the wind take me there.

failure flailures


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Breaking Out Of Self Sabotage.

Breaking Out Of Self Sabotage.

Body Community Love Motivation + Inspiration Shift Of Power Work

5:30AM: The alarm buzzes, and you refuse to open your eyes. Everything feels heavy. Your body is stuck in the drowned-out stupor of last night’s snackfest, when you raided the pantry and dove into that box of trail mix to accompany you as you browsed Netflix trying to find that one episode Crazy Ex Girlfriend you only got halfway through the night before. That one episode became four, and that handful of snacks became a now-empty plastic Costco tub of crumbs and pieces. That list of things to do is still three pages long, you feel puffed up and hung-over from snack overload, and that 6:30AM class at the gym you were so set on starting your day with is looking as unlikely as a sequel to the movie Titanic.

And so you wallow. You wallow in your despair, saddened that the great roll you were on only a few hours before has taken a different course. That good news you heard yesterday and that great opportunity you had last week don’t even seem so exciting anymore. I’m just not cut out for this today, you think. I’ll try again when I feel better.

Sound familiar?

~

Self-sabotage is a beast. It’s what we do when our long-held doubts and questions start to be negated and answered – and we panic. It’s those excuses we give and those rules we break semi-unintentionally. Self-sabotage is what keeps us from following up with that business contact that serendipitously came out of nowhere, what gets us digging into the fridge at 11pm when we’ve finally started to feel good in our skin, and what self-induces insomnia so that morning spin class is half over by the time our eyes flicker open in a groggy haze.

Self-sabotage keeps us in a place of fear.

And the difference between successful people and the ones that stay “stuck” in fear is not only self-sabotage – it’s control.

It seems obvious that success and control would be married, but it’s more like they’re…related. They’re slightly dysfunctional family members that love each other and need each other, but in too large of doses can drive each other into the ground.

Sure, success requires control to a certain extent. It requires control in vision, in preparation and in execution. The thing is, the most successful of individuals see the goal…yet relinquish control when it comes to the result. Successful people, above all, trust: trust that their hard work and preparation and high spirit will not be in vein, trust that their dominoes will fall into place, and most of all, trust that if their dominoes don’t, they’ll figure out a way for them to do so.

The secret to success isn't perfection - it's trust. Click To Tweet

Not too long ago (in the grand scheme of things), whenever things would start to go great for me, I’d start to make something go not-so-great. Probably to counter-balance what I thought deep down was something I hadn’t earned or didn’t deserve. More than anything, I was afraid of success. Failure was easier for me to stomach than the thought of possibly letting someone down once I was at the top. I’d react to Good Thing after Good Thing by falling back into my safe zones that kept me out of responsibility. Out of true extraordinary-ness. I’d do things that made me physically and/or emotionally feel awful. Forgetting deadlines (I don’t forget deadlines), binge eating or restricting (especially when I felt was getting too comfortable with the thought I didn’t have food “issues”), underpreparing for auditions (I was a serial over-preparer). Stuff that was completely antithetical to the ME I knew I was MEANT to be. These self-sabotagey habits kept me viewing myself as someone who was young, someone who was second-best, someone who needed help and assistance and was Less-Than. My legs felt heavy underneath me, and I’d cry to my closest confidantes that I felt like I worked so hard only to botch it all up. To me, self-sabotage was about staying in a zone that was safe, a zone in which I couldn’t be a true leader – because being a true leader meant I had nothing to follow but my own lead. And what’s more, if I could cry to someone about it later, I could be loved.

The “stuck” are without trust. The “stuck” are afraid of what happens if a domino accidentally hits another and takes a wrong turn, or stops the flow altogether. People who are “stuck” are so overwhelmed by outcomes that staying in the same loop begins to seem a whole lot more attractive. I know because this was me.

I don’t even recognize that girl anymore. I empathize with her, but god, she seems like such a far cry from who I am today. I now realize that I had major, maaajor trust issues: I didn’t trust myself to be able to handle success, and I didn’t trust that others would still love me if I didn’t “need” them in one way, shape or form. Oof.

Self-sabotage is a defense mechanism should we be given everything we dream of and not know what to do with it. Click To Tweet

Life is one big game of cause-and-effect, and we are hardwired to fear loss. And moving forward fearlessly into the life you know you’re meant to lead? There’s gonna be loss along the way. In a good way, yes – but sometimes, there will be losses you won’t be able to predict. Self-sabotage is nothing more than a sick, twisted defense mechanism should we be given everything we ever dreamed of and then not know what to do with it.

Because what if that happened? What if we literally got EVERYTHING we ever wanted? All our goals reached. All our boxes checked. Our lives would undoubtedly change. And change is very, very scary. We could have it all, and then lose it all once again! We could have it all, and then face a new host of obstacles even tougher than before! We have ZERO control over what happens once our light shines at its brightest. We could also do everything in our power to reach the goal but at the last moment, it’s pulled out from under us. That’s another option. The only way to succeed is to relinquish control – but relinquishing control sometimes means disappointment. So the “stuck” stay afraid, yet in control. The stuck person figures that if she fails, it’s gonna be at her own hands, not because of someone (or something) else. To make a dark analogy – it’s like goal suicide.

I’m nowhere near accomplishing all of my goals or feeling like I’ve got my shit together 100%, but here’s what I’ve learned about keeping yourself on…well, maybe not the “right” track, but the “right-for-you” track that will make you happy more often than not: Know what you want. Know EXACTLY what you want, every single detail you can muster up, even if it’s just a feeling. As a recovering sabotage-aholic, I can say that it’s not all going to be butterflies and roses, and you WILL have moments of relapse. We’re only human. It is inevitable. I had one last week. But when it happens, stop it in its tracks. Note exactly what you did, and dig deep for an answer as to why you did it.

Then do one thing to be proactive – to at least pick up some of the pieces and get the train rolling again. Strayed from your healthy eating plan? Have a green juice the next morning. Didn’t follow up with someone? Shoot off an email apologizing for being out of touch, and propose specific plans. Haven’t paid your overdue credit card bill yet? Pay that sucker and take the forty seconds’ worth of time to register for automatic bill pay.

Be proactive. Not reactive. Tell yourself you’ve got this. And ask yourself with full honesty, controlled intention, and release of the uncontrolled aftermath: How do I want my dominoes to fall?

self-sabotage


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a different version of this originally appeared on the chalkboard mag in 2012