#OneWord2022: Connecting with failure

I wasn’t sure what to focus on this month with my One Word (CONNECT). But the theme of failure kept surfacing — not something I generally want to connect with, though sometimes it is unavoidable. And sometimes, much as I do not want to acknowledge it, it is a gift.

I was talking with a friend who is also a biography counselor, telling her about a time I went through a major failure in my life. Although this was more than twenty years ago, it still rankles. The feelings of hurt and rejection and being judged and excluded still come up whenever I think of that event, although they are not so all-consuming as they were then. I can breathe and think of other things, and yet is clear something is not resolved for me.

So I arranged a time to talk it through again, hoping I might gain some closure. And this time I realized that although I had always focused on my failure to come up to other people’s standards, those people, teachers of mine, had also failed. They had failed to communicate with me in a respectful way that preserved our relationship. And though I’d berated and blamed myself for not being strong enough for making the communication happen, that was not my job. They failed, in this regard.

depressed woman having headache and stress
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Somehow, just realizing that was enough. I don’t need to force them to admit their failure, or to compensate me in any way. We have all failed, and we are all human. I no longer hold it against them, even as I see it clearly now for the first time. This heals the split between us that came about when we were divided against each other as judging teacher and unsatisfactory student. We’re back on the same level now, and connection is possible.

The benefit of being twenty years on is that I know there is life after failure. I’m beginning to think it may be the only true life, the only way we can be free. If we are bound to always be successful, then we are prisoners of success. Failure liberates us to imagine other ways to be, different than the picture we may have held or received from others. It is the crucible of invention.

That time of failure in my life was a time when things took a very different direction than I had expected or hoped. Looking back, I see that although it took time to develop and grow, this alternate direction was better than the idea I had in my limited, immature mind. There can be a wisdom in our failures that moves us forward, strange though it may seem. They are not only a judgment on our past, but a call into a future we would never conceive without them.

Another thing I notice is that failure is never total. (Otherwise, obviously, I would not be here.) There is always, always a remnant, something left to rebuild with, maybe a strength we had not realized we had, maybe a capacity that needs to be developed. And I think that recognizing and working with those remnants, however insignificant they seem, is a human talent that we need to appreciate much more. We have big dreams of conquering space, creating peace on earth, ending illness and suffering, and saving the planet, and yet maybe what we can really do best of all is to find what is left from the wreckage of our hopes, and cultivate and grow it, again and again and again.

close up shot of a person holding a plant
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Human freedom consists in knowing why we do what we do. And how can we know that, unless we know the consequences of choosing the wrong path? To gain this knowledge, we need to fail. And not to deny and forget our failures, but to look at them, steadfastly and honestly, and learn from them.

So I dedicate this month to connecting with failure. I am fortunate to have ample opportunities in my life to do so! Where once I felt each failure was a black hole that would swallow and annihilate me and that I must flee at all costs, I now know that I will survive to try again. I can attempt to stay awake and aware and learn from the experience. And to wonder where it will take me next.

What is your word teaching you this month?

One Word linkup at Lisa Notes

25 thoughts on “#OneWord2022: Connecting with failure

  1. This is very wise. I didn’t assign myself a word for this year, but I could always use the reminder that failure allows us to grow. (I also used “fails” as my opening word for Wordle this morning, inspired by this post!)

      1. A quote comes to mind, “Failure is not an option; it’s mandatory.” 🙂

  2. I often think of a scene from the movie Elizabethtown, where she tells him “have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you’re still smiling.”

    1. That does take a lot of courage. I usually want to slink away, not stick around. But I’m working on it.

  3. An essential, if painful part of life, sometimes it guides us away from a path that isn’t for us or forces us to explore or get better at something. But still it can even years later, rankle. It sounds like you’re dealing with a troublesome memory with perspective and wisdom.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Perspective and wisdom grow slowly out of confusion and repeated mistakes, but they do grow if we can hang on long enough and not lose faith in the deeper meaning of life, I find. It’s something I have to remind myself over and over.

  4. lots of wisdom in these lessons, Living reflectively and being open to connecting even with the hard places helps us grow, Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable!

  5. I’ve read that the opposite of success is not failure; the opposite of success is learning.

    Looks like you’ve learned a lot from a painful experience. Thanks for sharing your learning with us.

    1. Interesting way to think about it! In that case success should be applied sparingly … because we have so much to learn (at least I do).

      1. Yes! Paradoxically we don’t learn much from our successes even though they feel waaay better. But even then it’s worth reflecting on what could have been done better.

        1. Maybe they just give us a break to catch our breath before the real work (learning, aka failure) starts again! We can certainly be grateful for that but not expect, or even want it to last forever. This is a perspective I need to keep trying to hammer into my hard head.

          1. Yes! I like the idea of a somewhat rhythmic and mutually supportive pattern of successes and failures– of celebration and happiness, alternating with more challenging learning, failing and growth. I find it just so habitual and tempting to either identify with failure, stew in the pain it brings up, or try to avoid it altogether. It’s a journey, for sure!

            1. Recent practicing of mindfulness and contemplation has brought me a better ability to breathe through both success and failure and realize they are both just “waves on the ocean.” We have to identify with the water, not only the waves. But it’s not easy when much of my life is lived on the surface, getting tossed and bounced around.

  6. Wow! These are quite profound insights you had this month, Lory. I love how you found a positive line between connection and failure. The older I get, the more I understand, too, that some of my failures weren’t as much my fault as I thought. We’re all more interdependent than we realize. I’m also growing more accepting now of my humanness and susceptibility to make mistakes just like everyone else. Great summary: “I can attempt to stay awake and aware and learn from the experience. And to wonder where it will take me next.”

    1. “We’re all more interdependent than we realize” is also very wise and probably the most important thing I’ve learned, or started to learn. The ramifications are huge, and I think will become more and more apparent in all sorts of ways. It also means focusing on my personal failure (or success) is a form of blindness. To truly see, we have to look at the bigger picture. Connect again …

  7. I’m late, but…wow, loved this post. I’m sure I have some similar memories lurking in my mind that I should deal with. I wonder if maybe one of the last pieces of ‘growing up’ that we have to do involves learning to embrace failure like this. (Well, I’m sure there are plenty of other things to learn too.) But this is one of the hard ones!

    1. It was definitely a late learning for me. I’m only now getting to grips with it. Hopefully I still have a few more years left to practice. 🙂

  8. I especially love this quote from your words above, “Failure liberates us to imagine other ways to be, different than the picture we may have held or received from others. It is the crucible of invention.” Yes, ma’am!

    At the turn of the year, when I got quiet and opened up to a good word for me for 2022, the one word arose into view was, “Enough.” Which I immediately took as relevant in its double meanings of both– There is enough, I have enough, I am enough…. AND, Enough already! Enough of that, no more! I appreciate the prompt to revisit how it may inform my life, as I’d really forgotten to do so. It’s so clear how both meanings apply to my relationship to a sense of failure. We are each inherently more than enough, as sacred expressions of life, with no need to “succeed” to establish our value. No matter how much we “fail,” we are always enough. And, I can draw a line in the sand — ENOUGH of sinking or shrinking responses to an interpretation of failure! Which for me requires noticing my responses, compassion and honoring for how I feel, and applying this more liberating perspective. <3

    1. Wonderful word, I love the double meaning. Finding the healthy borderline is so much of what I am working with now, with some success as well as lots of instructive failure. “No matter how much we ‘fail,’ we are always enough.” I will strive to remember that.

  9. Lory, I would have never thought to view “connect” though the lens of failure, but it makes perfect sense now that I read how you’ve done it. I’m glad you were able to see the role that other people played in your experience from 20 years ago. We do seem to zero in on ourselves when we’re thinking about such things, don’t we? And what a blessing to finally have some closure about the situation. I’m not fond of failure either but the lessons that have come from it in my life probably wouldn’t have been learned any other way.

    1. I was surprised that this theme wanted to come to the fore this month, but I’m glad it did. I have certainly learned a lot from failure and that’s a good thing to connect with.

  10. My heart is grieving for and rejoicing with you.

    Grieving for the lost years and pain you have experienced.
    Rejoicing in your new insight from our Heavenly Father.

    May you continue to be blessed as you are diligent in pursuing God’s truth in your life!

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