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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