What Does Failure Mean To Me?
Yesterday a fellow blogger (Tales of a 30 year Old Nothing) asked a question of herself and therefore readers like me – what does failure mean to you? This question ignited a conversation between Mr. MPB and I. As we were driving for a little while we had sometime to talk thought it.
While I don’t want to speak on his behalf, I will paraphrase – he seemed to think that failure was mostly about giving up and either not working hard enough or trying anything different to succeed. Through his eyes something like failing something like an exam is simply the result of not working hard enough. And, through his eyes failure is walking away from something before the job is done, before success is reached. This of course meant that I had to ask if he saw our choice to stop trying and adopt as giving up? To which he seemed surprised and responded with:
Of course not, we want a family and adoption is about getting our family. If we chose not to adopt then yes, I would see it as a failure because it means we chose not to work hard enough to achieve the ultimate success – our family.
Okay, that’s pretty interesting. Because for me, I fully see my body as failing us, our babies and myself. Somehow I am cognisant that the failure is not mine, but rather a failure of my body as I have absolutely no ability to change the outcome. As I’ve discussed before I have, and still do to some extent, struggle with these feelings.
But if I really think of what failure means to me, failure is simply my own internal evaluation of myself.
First, let me state that by all measurable metrics (i.e. university classes, exams, papers, professional designations, etc.) I have never failed. With the exception of a pop quiz in grade 5 on a video about sentence structure that I didn’t watch (because it was boring, seriously it was a video on sentence structure, what kid is actually going to pay attention), I have never received a grade below 50%. So, since I do not count the grade 5 pop quiz as consequential to my life, let’s just ignore it for today’s purposes.
Essentially this means that I have never actually experienced any sort of ‘real’ failure outside of recurrent pregnancy loss. And, even RPL as a failure is debatable because I had absolutely no ability to influence my genetic make-up that resulted in our losses.
And so, upon reflection this means I have never been told that I failed something. Using University as an example, I have never experienced seeing red ink stating an F. I have never received a grade for a university class that was a real fail. Heck, I have never even received a C or D! That said, I did receive a few less than stellar grades along the way– a few B’s and A-‘s.
But there’s the thing, I realize by almost all standards receiving a B isn’t actually a failure, yet I saw it as a failure. I internalized the grades as being less than my best and less then what I knew I was capable of. So, being my own worst critic, in mind this meant I had failed.
So, what does failure mean to me?
It means a self-imposed judgement based on unfair and impractical expectations on myself. Simply, I internalize situations that are less than perfect to be a reflection of me as a failure.
Further, my fear of failure has meant that I have dreaded the idea of failing more than almost anything else. My fear of being viewed as a failure lead me to stay in an incredibly unhealthy job while experiencing multiple miscarriages because I was too afraid to let others see me as failing (turns out now that I’m re-integrating myself into professional life, everyone has been unbelievably positive and supportive of my decision to focus on my family and my health – not a single person other than me, saw this as failure). My fear of failure has meant that I’ve lived my life fearing being anything less than perfect.
I realize now that this is an insane approach to take to life. By seeing failure as being anything less than perfection, it means I expect perfection of myself. In the attempt to achieve perfection it also means that I am completely unforgiving to myself, some may even say I’m cruel to myself. I am absolutely my worst critic because no other sane and reasonable person is ever going to criticize me for achieving an A- instead of an A or even better yet an A+. Simply, my attempt to avoid failure at all costs meant that I become my own worst enemy. Living to avoid failure at all costs and living to be perfect is simply not a healthy way to live.
Experiencing multiple pregnancy losses and leaving my job to focus on me and my health, has allowed me to evaluate my life and my perspective on failure and success. It has enabled me to realize that I need to redefine my perspective of success and that sometimes life is messy. I am fortunate to have had this time to learn and grow as an individual, and I am truly hopeful that all these little life lessons stay with me into the future. And, on this note, I should point out that my more recent and more enlightened perspective on perfectionism and success have come from extensive personal introspection. There is still room to grow, and I do hope that I am able to learn to live with more self-compassion and grace. This is still a work in progress for me.
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Interesting. When not in self-destructive mode, I see failure in trying to conceive or hold onto s pregnancy as just that – failure – without the need to attribute personal blame for it as I think follows from Mr. MPB’s definition of failure. I think school grades aren’t the same as procedures over which we have limited control so the definitions aren’t necessarily synonymous. You need not agree but I would gently encourage you to consider if part of showing yourself more compassion could include ditching the need to lay fault at someone’s feet for pregnancy loss or infertility, if you wish.
Hm…. I fail constantly, so I’ve not really thought of it as a bad thing. In a general sense, failure is normal and can even be a good thing. At least it means that we’re trying, taking risks. I don’t mean to downplay the emotional toll that repeated failures can take (especially when we’re talking about deep, personal failure that comes with IF and RPL.) Maybe more that if I spent my life avoiding failure, I can’t imagine it would be very interesting.
Failure means I tried something and it didn’t work out quite as I wanted it to. Sure, I can be disappointed, hurt, or frustrated that it didn’t work, but the act of failure isn’t a negative to me. It’s just “a thing” that happens. In my case, frequently. 😉
I think I frame failure in different ways depending upon the circumstances. One failure does not define who a person is. If I make a mistake in my life, for example failing an important quiz, I have failed, but I have also learned something from it – so does that make it all bad? I also see it as a semantic argument, but I won’t get into that here.
I am glad that you have been able to reevaluate how you feel about yourself and these topics in general. I am proud of the progress you have made. ❤ I know how difficult it is to not be able to trust your body. I think it complicates a lot of things in life. Best wishes to you!
Your husband is so wise! He sees the big picture. The goal isn’t to make a baby human with your bodies – the goal is to have a family. Sure, making a baby human is the way most people do it – it’s kind of the taken-for-granted way, and it’s a good way, and I don’t want in any way to diminish your sense of sadness or disappointment at not being able to do it that way. But I just love the fact that, when it turned out that you didn’t get to do it in the way you had previously expected, he didn’t see a failure. He dealt with the sadness of loss, because the loss was real – but it in no way changed the big picture goal. He knows that the goal is to have a family, and since he’s focused on that goal, he’s able to accept that not being able to achieve it one way simply means you must find a different way to achieve it.
There’s another whole life lesson in here that goes way beyond having babies. Thank you for, once again, giving me something to think about that’s of value to my own life, and to how I approach my own goals and challenges.
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This is a very interesting question and I am going to have to see what DeWayne says about it tonight. To me failing relating to infertility, means losing faith and giving up. I would be failing if I did not continue to strive after my dreams of bring home a baby. I would fail if I did not continue to trust DeWayne, our doctors, God and myself. I would be failing if I allowed infertility to defeat me in my goal to mother a child here on earth. That is what failure would be to me.
I’ve definitely struggled with the idea of RPL being a failure of my body, or at least the idea of not being able to be “successful” at pregnancy. I’m used to putting in X effort and getting Y result. Unfortunately this is not something you can study for or learn or get better at to get the result you want. I like the idea of keeping in mind the ultimate desire is to have children, and there are other ways this can happen. It does take some of the (possibly entirely self-imposed) pressure off.
Great post! You are such an inspiration writer! I often look back at our year and half struggle with infertility and remember feeling like a HUGE failure as a woman. Feeling like my body has failed me because it wouldn’t do what it was meant to do. When we decided to go through IVF I felt like we were giving up/failing at conceiving naturally. But I knew if we didn’t try I would regret it and feel even more failure. In the end I guess I feel like your husband does, for us IVF was just the tool we needed to succeed in gaining our end goal, which is having a family.
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I struggle with this quite often, too, but I think I’m finally able to see that failure can only be defined as such when we allow ourselves to be and feel beaten. There are many ways to live a life and achieve our dreams. That is why the human tapestry is so rich, because we don’t all do things the same way. If your end goal is to have a family, then success is found through the specific ways you choose to create it.
You’re not a failure, love.
I wish you didn’t understand the complicated emotions around the meaning of failure, but I guess every human experiences failure. And as you say, that’s what makes the human tapestry so rich.
Love to you my friend.
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Awesome insights there, friend. Giving up and judgement is certainly part and parcel of failure. Thank you for sharing, you’ve added another layer to this whole failure thing. I hate that I’m still not over our failed cycle even though I know it’s not my fault.
It is so true. We are taking on so much and yet still feel not enough. It is time to Chang the thinking.
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