July 16 – My struggle with dealing with failure

July 16. “It’s not what happens to me, it’s what happens in me. It’s not the size of the problem, but how I handle the problem when I fall.” (Greg Horn)

I am the type of person who sometimes takes things too personally. I internalize what happens around me, sometimes to my detriment. When someone makes a comment, I can be quick to take offense, sometimes without even bothering to find out what they intended. Or worse, surmising that I KNOW what they intended, and it was meant to be sinister.

Most of the time I have overreacted to the comment. Either it was intended innocently, or I have blown it out of proportion. An inferno will sometimes rage inside me as I imagine arguments with the person, always with me getting the upper hand.

Of course, those conversations almost never happen (thank God). I usually calm down at some point, and my rationality will kick back in. But in the meantime I waste a lot of brain cycles, and a lot of stomach acid, mulling the problem.

Even on the rare occasion that someone has intentionally insulted me, the effects will boil inside for far more than the thoughtless person’s action should be worth.

What I am saying is that I sometimes struggle with the fall. And, it isn’t just limited to insults. Any time I fail I have a hard time picking back up.

When I made my foray into trying to sell photographic art, I researched and prepared. I stayed up late at night for weeks assembling products. I spent hours researching how to set up my booth, how to interact with customers, and so on. I bought a tent, tables, grid walls, and many other products to use in my booth. When it came time for the show, I was ready.

I arrived after dinner on the night before the show and set up my tent and equipment. I had done a practice run in my driveway, so I was prepared with the right tools and knew what I was doing. The next morning I came back with my products, and carefully arranged them. I was there at the crack of dawn setting and preparing. I had my little cooler of ice water, and my chair. I was READY!

When the show opened I waited in anticipation for customers. I saw people walk by, but none stopped in. That was ok because it was still early. The hours clicked by, one after another. The show ran from 10:00am until 7:00pm. I left my booth only once to use the restroom, otherwise I was there, ever at the ready for my first sale.

Hour after hour I went. I smiled, I stayed back so as not to crowd anyone who stopped by. At 7:30pm, thirty minutes after the show closed for the day, I closed up my tent without making a single sale. I was heartbroken. I had worked for months to prepare for that day, and not a single person shelled out a single dollar for one of my pieces.

In many ways that was the end for me. I made it through the rest of that show, and did make some sales. But, I didn’t even sell enough to pay for my entry fee. I went to some day shows in the fall and early winter, and I made a few sales, but nothing that was earthshattering.

When that season ended I packed my products into my office where they sat for two years. Last year I moved them to the garage where they sit today. I had to move them out of my office because they were a constant reminder of my failure. If you know anyone who wants some matted pictures of flowers, lighthouses and a sailing ship, I am your man. It has been years since I bought a greeting card, because I have 300 of them to use.

The point of this story is to illustrate that I don’t deal well with failure. A successful artist has probably had many shows like the one I described. They learn from each, and do something different –and hopefully better – next time. I was not cut out for that life, and I have a few thousand dollars worth of unsold art to prove it.

Thankfully this hasn’t been an issue in all parts of my life. I have made mistakes, and had failures in my career, in my marriage, and in my family and friends. Sometimes I recover well from them, other times it goes about like my art show experience.

My reflection today is on my constant internal struggle to learn how to take criticism and defeat well. If I could ever learn that, I’d fly like an eagle.

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