When I was growing up, the first bad F-word I learned was a never-to-be-uttered swear word that has now become much more commonly used and to which many of us have become largely desensitized.
As we move from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, a different F-word begins to garner a fair share of attention. This word I speak of is one that many a student has been terrorized with and one that a good portion of human toiling, struggling, and striving is aimed at avoiding.
I’m talking about Failure with a capital F, the dreaded outcome that anyone who has ever tried something new, taken a risk, or really lived life fully and expansively has had to face.
Words have meanings, and the meanings we give to those words can color our perceptions and have a big impact on our lives when we use them to describe ourselves or our experiences.
For many, failure means frustration. Failure means things are not going to work out for us. It’s often taken as evidence that there’s something wrong with us, that we have some fundamental incapacity, that we are indeed not enough, and that we might as well give up on our dreams.
Six years ago, I left the certain path of a promising career as a lawyer to follow my heart and my passion for music. Walking the artist’s path has pushed me outside of my comfort zone time and time again, and, in the process, I have discovered the true meaning of failure. I have had to learn to have faith in my grandest vision in my weakest and smallest moments. I have had to continue believing in myself after hearing no for the thousandth time. I have had to continue taking risk after risk to back up the big risk I took when I turned down the security of a corporate law job. I have had to be my own cheerleader when the lights go down and I’m looking in the mirror at a battered performer. I have had to constantly evaluate my strengths and weaknesses to be able to deepen my practices, expand my abilities, and learn my crafts.
A few weeks ago, after a solid month of hard work, I played a show in my hometown and had one of the better performances I’ve ever had. It felt so good to see the fruits of my labor, and it gave me a good little boost of confidence. Then a few nights ago, after a busy week of travel and personally challenging circumstances, I played a show in New York, and it ended up being one of the worst performances I’ve had in a good while. And it stung.
All the usual trappings of falling short of the mark were triggered. The familiar and ruthless voice of doubt, the scathing self-criticism, the unnecessary late night slice of pizza followed to try to appease myself. I observed all of these old habits surface (and I ate the NYC pizza, which was pretty good…lol) and was able to remain just present enough to not get completely consumed by them. I made a conscious decision to put things into perspective and not get too caught up in any of the drama in that moment.
After a good night’s sleep and a few chats with some of my dearest creative allies who always help lift me up after my creative setbacks, I saw the gift of that horrible performance. It reminded me of the importance of being consistent in the practice of my crafts. It forced me to dig down deeper when I felt like I had nothing left and re-commit to the path of mastery. It allowed me to see that, even on my worst day, I was able to make a connection with someone who left the show feeling better than when they got there. I got to be reminded of how supported I am on my creative path and on my spiritual path. I got a very clear picture of what areas of my performance need work. And best of all, I was humbled just enough to inspire me to want to keep going, to give more, and to find a way to overcome this latest challenge in the pursuit of my dreams.
Best of all, I was reminded of the truth about failure. Failure is a good thing.
If you’re not failing, you’re not really growing. If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risks. If you’re not failing, you’re not fully living!
Failure is an opportunity to learn, to make refinements, and to expand. Failure is proof that we’re playing a big game. Failure is a necessary stop on the path to success.
Failure is fuel for greatness.
Published by Positively Positive (June 13th, 2013)