“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.” (Denis Waitley)
I hate to fail at things. Like everyone else, I want everything that I attempt to do ending up in wild success. I am even pretty skilled at the outset of a project in hyping myself up to believe that I will succeed. Also like everyone else, I don’t ever start something out with the intention of doing anything but succeeding.
And yet, sometimes I do fail. As I reflect on my life I can think of many examples of failures and successes. Sometimes when I have failed, it has been a mere setback. I have used the failure as a teacher, and seen it as a delay or detour. Other times I have allowed the failure to be a defeat or a dead end.
As I am sitting here this morning I am reflecting on why it is that sometimes I can grasp the idea of learning and growing from my defeats, and other times I abandon the idea altogether.
I have written previously about how I failed in my attempt to have a photography business. I had the right elements in place. I had a body of work that people liked. I researched how to set up shop for art shows. I diligently prepared products for sale. When the days came to sell, no one bought. This should have been a set of teachable moments. I should have learned from whatever mistakes I had made, and refined myself. At the very least, I should have kept my shoulder to the wheel and persevered until I found myself in the business and started to see success.
But, I didn’t do any of that. I quit. I gave up. I allowed the failure in that first season to be a dead end. I have thought long and hard about that failure. Was it because I had the wrong product for the market? Was it that I tried to launch a small business at the height of the Great Recession? Was it that I didn’t work hard enough? All of these are important questions, and ones that I would have had to answer if I stayed in the game. But now, several years later, the better question is … why did I give up?
The answer to that key question is long and complicated, and not one that I want to dig into here. What I will say about it is that failing in the photographic art business wasn’t an isolated thing. It followed, and was hand-in-hand with a number of other failures and setbacks in my life. It wasn’t that I ONLY failed at this, there were other things too.
Recently I have begun (for the umpteenth time in my life), to lose weight. This is an area where I have had many successes, and many failures. Each time I have had a failure, it has been a setback. Sometimes the setbacks have been very temporary and short-lived. Other times I have taken years to recover. Sometimes, as was the case with the art business, the failures have happened as part of a web of other events in and around my life.
As I sit here and write my rambling thoughts on failures and successes, the theme that is coming out for me is this. When a failure in my life happens that is isolated, that is set apart from other things in my life, I tend to handle it very well. I pick myself up, dust myself off, learn from the experience, and move on. But, when that failure is surrounded by other circumstances of failure, that is when I let it get me down.
I don’t know what to make of this lesson. When I had the art business failure, I worked hard on the other things in my life that were amiss, and I prioritized the business lower. In retrospect that was the right thing to do, and so the finality of failure in the business was a conscious thing. So, maybe there isn’t anything to learn from that project, at least not today.
As I have just passed the quarter pole of this 365 project, one thing that has become clear is that the themes of the quotes tend to repeat. Each time I come back to a topic I have written on before it is a little harder, not because there isn’t plenty to think and write about, but because each time I revisit a topic it means I have to dig deeper to gain a better understanding.
I think that is the key reflection I am taking with me today. I take with me the idea that all of these quotes and reflections do not stand alone, they are part of a larger network of lessons and reflections in my life, each with their own unique points, but also each interconnected with the other. There aren’t really reflections that stand alone.