Learning From Failure

(Screen shot from http://youtu.be/QkbZmpdTuls)

(Screen shot from http://youtu.be/QkbZmpdTuls)

So this is it. I’ve signed up for the half marathon that I’ve been mentioning for the past few weeks and I guess I’m doing it now. Doomsday arrives November 10, 2013. Maybe I will finish, maybe I won’t. If I don’t, the little truck that creeps along behind the runners with its open jaws, waiting to catch those who run slower than a 16:00 minute mile, will get me. I get this image in my head that it’s kind of like running from death, because while I can try to outdistance it, it will get me in the end.

Anyways, when I was running last night in preparation to outrun the death truck, I was listening to Katy Perry. (Yes, Katy Perry, and I’m not ashamed.) Her song “Pearl” talks about a girl who is held down by a man who is afraid of her strength who blah blah blah. As the song progresses, the girl grows stronger and Katy sings: “You’re the one that rules your world. / You are strong and you’ll learn / that you can still go on.” Hearing these words corresponded to the very minute that I felt myself needing to slow down to a walk. I could not go on running. Literally, I could not “go on.”

I know that the situation that Katy sings about and the one I just described are two totally different ones, but I was struck with the juxtaposition between her positive message and my inability to be the fulfillment of that message. Admittedly, messages telling young girls “you can do it!” are better than messages telling them they are not good enough, but what happens to that young girl when she fails? Or what about when you try really, really hard and then you just can’t anymore? What happens when the weight of expectation for success becomes too much to bear?

This gap between what we are told we can accomplish and what we can actually accomplish appears often in our lives in small and innocuous ways. It happens when I run, for example. People are telling me I can do this half marathon and, well, maybe I can’t.

But it happens in other ways and ways that can be far more devastating to the spirit. Life often works out like this: Parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, etc. all tell us that we can “shoot for the moon” and that we can achieve our goals. Personally, the shock of getting out into the real world and putting my master’s degree to work as a secretary has created bitterness and anger and resentment at the bill of goods that I was sold for 23 years, the bill that said I could land a sweet job if I tried hard enough or got a good education or that I could make it and move up in this world. And here I am now, 25 years old, living at home with my parents and sleeping in my childhood bedroom, working as a secretary and living paycheck to paycheck where every dollar counts. Life has not turned out the way I was told it would and growing up has been and remains frightening and destabilizing.

This is obviously a much bigger issue than can be written about in 600 words, but maybe we should consider sending messages to each other and to our children not that we can achieve anything we put our minds to or that we can’t achieve anything at all, and instead send messages that failure is OK. Seen within a particular context, failure can be a shaping experience that creates a stronger, wiser, and more empathetic character. We won’t always win and even those who get to the proverbial top will lose to death in the end as well. Perhaps if we can be okay with not always winning, or not always meeting our goals, we will be more able to face that inevitability in the end.


lc-e1358128566135Laura Creel (@Little_Utopia) is the managing editor of Little Utopia.

Previously from Laura Creel:
I Am Not a Food Stamp Abuser
It’s a Feel Good Friday, and We are Celebrating the Greenville House of Pizza
♦ Technology Finds Another Way to Creep Us Out
♦ Viral Video of the Week: Do the Mashed Potato
♦ What Jimmie Sue and Larry Swilling Taught Us About Marriage

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