For seventy-seven years I’ve lived in a world where countless people have sincerely tried to help me – parents, teachers, coaches, and friends – helpers all.
And the end result of all this help? I felt I was a failure. To me, every suggestion implied that I wasn’t good enough. Help always seemed to include an implication of failure.
“Alan, you’re too sensitive,” was my mother’s refrain throughout my entire childhood. I know she was trying to help. But a chorus of “Don’t be so sensitive” assaulted me every time I heard her say that.
“Don’t be so sensitive?” Should I live my life with eyes covered, ears plugged, emotions numb? While these are options I sometimes use, I refuse to live my life as an armor-encased hermit. So despite my mother’s helpful advice, I continue to be sensitive. I don ‘t have a choice about that.
We aspire, we succeed and we fall short. We fail to fulfil both our own high hopes and the expectations of others. We compound our failure by failing to acknowledge it, becoming, often unconsciously, a victim. And a victim, by definition, cannot change.
But here is where the Five Freedoms of Facing Failure can help you live a more fulfilling life.
First, acknowledge your failure to yourself. At age sixty-five my mother discovered a lump in her breast but told no one for ten months. She was only able to get treatment when she finally acknowledged she’d been in denial that something was wrong. She had failed to accept that her body was not functioning properly.
Second, advertise your failure. When I started to practice law, and I do mean practice, every time I failed I shook my fist of blame at someone else. Anyone else. And I remained a captive of the same repeated failures until I finally learned to take responsibility. I was pleasantly shocked when my staff relaxed and started to like me better. At last I was free from my own fear that they would see me as incompetent.
Third, ask for help. When my daughter Sara was four years old her teacher said, “When Sara wants something, she asks for it.” I smiled. “And if she doesn’t get it, she asks again.” I beamed. “And if she still doesn’t get it she asks someone else.” I was thrilled. The teacher seemed to disapprove. But if you stop at the first closed door you’ll never leave your bedroom.
Fourth, ask for and accept forgiveness, both from within and from without yourself. Years ago, my family was heading off for a vacation. My Dad had driven to my house and was standing in the driveway. As I backed my car out of the garage I saw him in my rearview mirror, jumping frantically up and down. I knew I wasn’t going to hit him, so I continued to back up – right over his suitcase. Had I failed? Was it my fault? It made no difference. His suitcase was crushed and I apologized profusely. Now, twenty years later, we both laugh at the experience. Maybe I laugh a little more heartily.
Fifth, by following the first four steps you’ve given yourself the freedom to move on. As the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” When you lose your fear of facing failure, nothing but freedom can follow.
Go for it!
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