The Lesson in Failure

Photo Credit: Vikki Reich

Photo Credit: Vikki Reich

Yesterday, I went to the Y to run, hoping to remember my strength and clear my head. Running will never come naturally to me and when I do it, there are certain conditions that need to be met. I can only run in the morning. I always run alone. I must listen to music. 

I don't run fast or far but I have worked up to a steady two miles and I'm happy with that. Sometimes, I work through story ideas while I run, turning an idea around and around so that I can see it from different sides. Sometimes, I think of characters and imagine what they might say to each other. Sometimes, I come up with new ideas and make a mental list so that I can write them down later. 

So, yesterday, I arrived at the Y in the morning and the track was nearly empty. I set up my Nike app for my run, selecting my distance and playlist and then started. I hadn't run in over a week but it felt good (or at least what passes for good to someone who hates running) and the first song on the playlist - Steer by Missy Higgins - was perfect as it reminded me of the importance of focus and direction and then, the music stopped. My first instinct was to stop running because I can't run without music but I decided to see if I could, to run one mile without it just to see what might happen. I did it. I ran a mile without music. Then, I stopped and reset the music and walked for another two miles.

When I first started running a year ago, I would have considered stopping after one mile a failure. I would have berated myself for my lack of endurance and/or my mental weakness. But yesterday, I took pride in the fact that I ran a mile easily with my breathing and the sound of my feet hitting the track as my only soundtrack. 

I have always feared failure even though I know there are plenty of concrete ways that I have failed. I failed in my career as a social worker more often than not. I've failed some of the people in my life, even if only in small ways. I've failed in submitting essays to journals. And this month, for the first time in 10 years, I failed to complete NaBloPoMo and failed to complete NaNoWriMo. 

But failure and feeling like a failure are different things. Failure is concrete. You can point to goals not met, to hurt feelings in people you love, to ideas brought to fruition that don't take flight. It is effort exerted with an unexpected or unwanted outcome. Feeling like a failure is intangible. It is a crisis of confidence, rooted in self-criticism and rarely accurate. The truth is that I still struggle with feeling like a failure and, this month, I bullied myself out of writing and realized I've actually been doing that for a while now. 

Today, I was talking with a friend about how emotional we still are about the election and how we are struggling to find ways to write in the wake of it and she said "I am impressed at how you are still able to find words." Her perspective was so different than mine and such a comfort. 

We are all in need of kindness, now more than ever. I'm going to try to be more consistent in showing some to myself and I wish the same for all of you who are struggling.