What is Failure?


It’s loss.
It’s an ending.
A bust.
A defeat.
A demise.
A shortcoming.
A lesson.
A message.
An opportunity.

It doesn’t matter what word I use to describe it. It only matters how I define it.

If I don’t define it…

…it will define me.

The F-word: a progression through failure

Nobody likes to talk about it.  It’s as comfortable as discussing religion and politics with family at the dinner table. but I feel the need to write about the F-word.

Failure.

It’s not something we seek, nor is it something we can avoid.

No one attempts an endeavor hoping to be unsuccessful.  No one enters a competition yearning to get beat.  No one gets married dreaming of a future divorce.

So, what do I do with the F-word when it describes my circumstances?  I’d like to relate some of my thoughts.  Maybe they will help you frame the experience in which you find yourself. Maybe they will help you know what to do with your F-word.

I recognize these four stages when addressing failure.

  • Failure equals loss
  • Loss requires grief
  • Grief produces pain
  • Pain demands healing

Failure equals loss

In 2009, my father-in-law died of congestive heart failure. There is a full description on WebMD with medical terms describing this condition, but its simple explanation is this: his heart stopped working the way it was intended.

His heart failed. And as a result, we lost him.

To me, this is the first step in working through failure. I must acknowledge the loss that has occurred.  Plans got changed. The future will not look the same as it was hoped.

I’ve been given well-intended advice to not call it failure, but to me, to not use the F-word is to not fully embrace the process that lies ahead if I plan to reach my destination of recovery and wholeness.  If I ever plan to succeed again, I must work through it step by step.  Progress comes through process.

Loss requires grief

There is no loss without grief. And the degree of grief is directly proportional to how much that loss mattered.  Losing a child is going to feel different than losing a pet.  Both will hurt, but I can get another dog.  I can’t get a child back.

There is no going around it. I can only go through it if I am to get to a better place.  The failure that produced the loss is going to hurt.

Grief produces pain

So yes, it’s going to hurt and hurt bad.  No need to be surprised.

There is no way to soften the blow.

Pain demands healing

Pain is a watchdog that barks when there is a problem. It’s an indication that something is wrong.   In this way, pain can be helpful if it points me to the right solution for healing it. Whatever the cause, whether its physical, emotional or psychological, pain is demanding attention.  The sooner I pay attention to it, the quicker I can know how to deal with it.  When I was diagnosed with a goiter on my thyroid and the doctor’s advice was to leave it alone since it was benign and if anything changed, he would take a look at it again.  Seven years later, it had grown to the size of my fist and began to affect my breathing, which meant no more ignoring it.  Surgery was required. It was a hassle, but I breathe better now.

Conclusion:

Failure is painful.  And like any painful experience, I need to seek healing from it.  But if my solution is only designed to deal with symptoms of the pain and not its source, I’ve settled for relief.  Read the label of most cold medicine and you will see it described as “relief from the painful symptoms of cold and flu.” Relief is not the same as healing.

This is the point where it gets tricky.  The pain might be so bad that the thought of making a full recovery seems impossible.  That’s what pain can do.  It can alter reality.  I can’t convince anyone who has lost hope.  I can only put my story out there, shed a little light on the path that I’ve trod, and hope someone else can find their way in the same direction.

Thanks for reading.

Welcome to 55degrees.US

Welcome to my new blog, 55Degrees.US.  This title is full of hidden meaning, but I won’t go into that right now.  That’s for later.  This first post is directed at me.  It’s meant to help me take the first step toward what I already know about myself, but I need a starting point to which I can constantly return when the going gets tough, or as I call it, when dream fatigue sets in.

If you choose to follow along, these are the four main reasons that got me writing again and will keep me doing so.

  • Write
    • I have a compulsion to communicate, specifically in the form of writing. As a student I had a weird practice of writing letters.  Many talked about it. I did it.  I don’t know why or where it got started.  I loved creating a handwritten letter, sealing and stamping the envelope and putting it in the mailbox.  Karen and I courted in the days before email and we have a box full of cards, notes and letters we sent to each other over an 18-month period.
    • Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat.Pray.Love has a great TED talk in which she spoke of the crippling effect of her success. She fretted over how could she ever write another book as great as that one? Her freedom came when she drew this conclusion: “I’m a writer, not a best-selling author. And writers write. So that’s what I got busy doing again.”  I love this idea of operating from a position of identity rather than letting circumstances define who I am.  Regardless if good or bad, success or failure, I am not my circumstances.
  • Reflect
    • I don’t think out loud. I process thoughts internally.  I don’t want to say something that I will later regret, so I rehearse the ideas in my mind first.  Writing lets me do that.  When Karen was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, my first impulse was to write about it.  Life suddenly changed in a moment in that hospital room and I didn’t know what hit me.  I turned to the one thing that I knew.  My uncertainty led me back to a certain place, and there in the company of words I would find my way through the grief.  It makes sense that I’m back here again.
  • Encourage
    • A big hurdle to overcome in publishing my writing is answering the accusation, “who do you think you are?” This is a sad but common indictment, I think helped along by the celebrity culture that exists today. Every industry needs its rock stars to sell its product.  Fame somehow gives approval that this person is a legitimate expert and for that reason worthy of our time and money. I have no idea if Guy Fieri is a good chef or not, but because he’s on TV and sells a lot of books, the masses therefore conclude that he must know what he’s talking about.  Take all that away and get down to the essence of our stories and we’ll find there’s not that much that separates us.
    • I’ve been through a lot of circumstances that can simply be labeled as personal failure. I’ve felt pain that I didn’t know existed.  I’ve stared into the abyss, wondering if there was anything on the other side, and yet I know my circumstances pale in comparison to someone else’s hardships.  There is always a voice that attempts to silence the story from being told, so damn that voice and write the story.
  • Speak
    • I will add audio portions to this blog. Some in the form of stories that I find interesting and think you will too. Some of it will be music I’ve written and recorded in the past. Some will be new music that I am developing.  The same points above apply to writing music.  I am a musician, not a rock star, so I need to make music.  Music lets me reflect and feel thoughts and ideas that words cannot express. And music can bring encouragement to others, but I must put it out there if its ever going to be heard.

Thanks for reading. Here we go.

 

Kevin.