What if Failure is the Secret to Life?

Nailed it!
Failure. There are times when I wake up in the morning, and I can feel the failure waiting to happen. Maybe it’s because I slept through the alarm and the kids are late for school. Maybe it’s because I’ve been slacking in school myself and I know I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Or perhaps it’s because I was not at my best the day before and I realize I have to readily hand out apologies. 

Failure is a part of the human experience. A rather large part when you really think about it. Yet we are so resistant to failure. It hangs on us like a shameful scarlet letter that we carry from minute to minute throughout our days. It’s a guilt that we swallow, and try in vain to ignore.

This morning I woke up early, the kids were ready for school on time, and we left the house earlier than usual. This was a plus in my book. Over the last few days we’ve had some pretty rainy days, but it never occurred to me that roads or low water crossings might be flooded. My kids attend a charter school about 30 minutes away from home, and this isn’t the first morning they’ve been late for school. The route we normally take was blocked off because, of course, there was a low water crossing right at the very end of the road. I had to turn around and back track 15 minutes to take the long way around. The kids were late for school despite our great effort to get out the door early. Isn’t this just life sometimes? The best laid plans gone astray.

See, it’s mornings like this that I have to remind myself that time is a concept that man has hinged its entire life upon. I’m not saying that we should all adapt a “fuck it” attitude and just give up trying to be on time for anything, but I’ve often wondered where the fun and mystery in life can be found in stringent schedules. I read about wealthy people and their clockwork schedules, and I admire their dedication. I also sit and ponder the inner workings of such a scheduled life. I could have it all wrong, but it seems that even fun must be scheduled in a life so well planned.

To be honest, I had that well planned life for a period of time. I had the money for a period of time. Not wealth by any means, but definitely enough comfort and padding that my life certainly wasn’t hard financially. My marriage was another story entirely. There’s a price to be paid for that comfort. It usually comes in the form of a huge sacrifice of time. The most eye opening experience of my life came when I realized that the financial comfort I had was not worth the sacrifices made to get it. The time lost would never be returned, and the failed marriage would never be mended. The money did not buy happiness, and because time was the sacrifice made, everything was planned down to the minute for a very long time.

When I look back on those years, I realize that my well planned vacations weren’t that much fun. They were a scheduled break from my every day life, but in reality there was not really a true break from schedule. It becomes a schedule in a different setting, and the stress never really has the opportunity to go on hiatus. It’s more like money spent trying to fool ourselves into thinking we made a half-hearted effort at a break from the norm, but realizing that the effort was wasted. 

I cannot speak for everyone, but I know that for me the clockwork life was a form of control that I could keep over the unpredictable nature of life. If I had my plan, and I stuck to it, I felt as if I had some control over things. The reality was that it was only a means of pretending I had things together. That I had some kind of say in the happenings in my little world. For a little while, that felt pretty good. And then it didn’t anymore.

My thirties have been quite cathartic. I separated from and eventually divorced the man that my sun rose and set with for over 10 years. I literally believed I would die still deeply in love with him. It was never meant to work out, and I can say that in absolute understanding now.  Different people on different paths in  life. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes.

In the aftermath, I went off the beaten path, and shocked plenty of people around me. I went a tad bit mad for a little while. I relinquished my need for control in my life after a particularly enlightening journey through my very own ego. I started to understand that everything we do in this life means very little in most ways. It’s incredibly significant, but not very important. I know what you might be thinking. How is it possible that life is significant, but the events unimportant all at the same time? 

The most significant things we will do will be in the privacy of an unwatched life.

Most of us will be lucky to call ourselves average, everyday people. The majority of us will do nothing so great that generations of people will remember us. The most significant things we will do will be in the privacy of an unwatched life. We will not make headlines for our break-ups and make-ups. We will not draw crowds while doing mundane daily things. We will not be spoken of in high regard by strangers. Millions of people will not discuss our salaries and accomplishments. All of these things will happen without pause or fanfare from the world around us. It will mean something only to us, and a select few people. Significant, but unimportant in the grand scheme. 

We are creatures of habit, and often find ourselves too afraid to explore the unbeaten path. I’m still young, and I’m searching for answers to all of life’s mysteries. I’ll probably never find them all, if any at all. The fun is in asking and trekking through the possibilities, and this may lead me off course at times. I constantly teeter on the edge of responsibility and spontaneity. 

 So what if it does? Life can change in an instant, and I’ve often wondered how I would feel if that were to come to pass. Would I be proud of the stringent life I built? Would I be appreciative of the constant schedules? Could I look myself in the eye and say that I was completely happy with the moments wasted for things that didn’t bring me joy? Was it worth it to put off my dreams in pursuit of a more socially accepted career? Would the time dedicated to success, the time stolen from my family, be worth it in the end?

…my biggest fear in life is arriving safely at death, with a well planned history behind me, only to realize that I did not pursue anything that truly enriched my experience.

These are the questions some of us are too afraid to answer. Sure, we can ask them all day long, but to really sit with yourself and have a conversation to arrive at the answers…that’s some soul searching. To answer them, we must brave the kind of honesty that can lead to major life changes and potentially painful realizations. I think my biggest fear in life is arriving safely at death, with a well planned history behind me, only to realize that I did not pursue anything that truly enriched my experience. Fear, failure…fuck…

I fear showing up to my death bed with a collection of things, but not a collection of great memories. I fear spending so much time and energy trying to hand my children a good and scheduled life that I forget to get to know who they are, and I become unacquainted with the man I’ve chosen to do life with. I worry that I will arrive with a list of properly timed and carefully laid plans in life only to realize that the failure in my existence was that I merely existed. I fear trying too hard to please everyone else and I forget to fail.

 I did not live. I did not take chances. I did not stray from the beaten and worn path. I did not chase life’s mysteries. Failing to fail at life is probably the biggest, and least enriching failure of all.

This morning, as I was turning around from that flooded crossing, I started to allow the guilt of my kids being late sink in. I let it weigh on me as I cheerfully explained to the kids that sometimes these things happen in life. I kept an upbeat spirit in my little talk as I slowly died inside at the disappointment I felt in myself for not considering that this might happen. My heart ached for my youngest child who had a minor panic attack over the impending tardiness. As I arrived 15 minutes late at my children’s school, I apologized to the principle and sputtered out excuses. I felt more shame in that simple thing than I did over the tardiness.

What am I teaching my kids? Were they paying attention to my demeanor, explanation, and apology? Why did I feel compelled to give it?  The fact is, their mom is a hot mess, and she doesn’t have it all together all of the time. She still feels some guilt over this truth, but fuck it, that’s just who she is.

“F” is for Failure
Today, it took me almost an hour to get my kids to school. If I had given myself a grade, I would say it was a big, fat “F”. Oh well. Life happens. Failure happens. I believe it is better to try and let my children see me fail than to work too hard planning for a life that is random. It is better that they see real life happening so they learn to maneuver obstacles with grace.

I don’t want to raise my kids in a world that hinges so heavily on time that they panic and miss the opportunities presented in the path less taken. They will have to keep time in mind in everything they do, but I hope that when life is happening, they remember to stop and take a deep breath. I hope that they understand that sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. 

I want nothing more than for each of them to be able to deal with an unexpected or unplanned hiccup in life with all of the beauty and grace they possess. Free from the need to give embarrassed explanations, or guilt fed excuses. Because floods happen. Being late happens. This is life. Shit just happens. Doing it authentically, and allowing these experiences to seep into our souls requires a little fucking up.

Failure happens, and no matter how well we plan, no matter how prepared we are, sometimes we are late to the party. Perhaps a well planned life is the surest way to disappointment. Days like today teach me not to feel so guilty for my failures. In the end, I don’t think any of these things really matter anyway. They are small set-backs in a bigger picture, and I do believe it is high time we all started feeling less guilty for it all.

It is difficult enough to get through some days without this added pressure to do it all perfectly, and who truly wants to do life that way? If the point in life is not to live up to the standards set for us, what is the point? I’m starting to believe that life is simply an experience of trial and error. We try, we fail, we try something different. Maybe there is no secret to life at all. It is possible that the only real purpose is figuring everything out and, and in doing so, failing sometimes.

This morning, my kids were late to school and after some thought and a little guilt, I realized that I’m grateful to be giving them a realistic perspective of what life really is. It’s the fuck ups, and the tardies, and the unexpected set backs. It’s the long way around some days, weeks, months, and years. There’s something to pick up and carry with us in each one of these opportunities found in the unknown.

Some mornings are like sticking your head inside the barrel of a loaded cannon, and some days are going to be “F” kind of days. Failures, fuck ups, fears, and finding our own way. Maybe the “F” words are not so bad after all.  Perhaps this is where living is done. Not in a perfectly planned life and scheduled events, but in the unexpected and unplanned for variables found in the spaces between.

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