Well, Friday’s post had some amazing responses. I think maybe we need to explore this failure thing some more, don’t you?
It’s not just about taking chances on jobs or dates. Pushing yourself athletically or mentally. Trying to learn a new, complicated and possibly futile skill. If it were just that, we could all avoid failure if we wanted to. We could go an entire lifetime with no risks and no failures if we wanted to. We’d end up with really small lives, but for some, that would be fine, thank you very much.
The problem is, of course, that you simply cannot avoid failure. It’s built right in to being human, to being alive. And if it’s going to get you, no matter what, you might as well have some practice ahead of time, keep those failure muscles supple, build your try again capacity, your give up and move on ability.
How do I know this? What gives me the right to even talk about this? It’s time for some stories. One today and more as we develop this theme in the weeks ahead.
Alan and I got married with the intention that we would have babies, that we would, in fact, raise a family. Nothing unusual about that. Lots and lots of people do it. You wouldn’t think it would be such an arena in which to practise the fine art of failure. And yet it was.
Nothing happened. Month after month went by and no good news to report to our families and friends.
We went to see the doctor. We were tested. I was put on fertility drugs.
Five years and four miscarriages later, Alan and I were in the middle of a raging argument one night. Because, you see, those fertility drugs don’t just make you fertile. They make you fertile and mad as hell. Mad in both senses of the word. I was so not myself. I was so not who I wanted to be. I was so not who Alan wanted to be married to.
And here we were, fighting yet again, damaging our marriage, feeling desperate and sad and lost when Alan said the magic words: “We don’t have to keep doing this.”
And there is was, all sparkly and tantalizing: a way out. A way forward. Yes, it was giving up, which most would see as failure. You hear such stories when you’re trying to have a baby, of the incredible lengths people go to to get there. The woman who had NINE miscarriages before she ended up with a perfect (perfect!!!) baby boy. The couples who go so far into debt they may never get out to pay for fertility treatments that may not work or may work so well that they end up with more babies than they can handle.
And you’re told you should do this. Accepting that maybe it’s just not to be is not supported. “You’re quitting?” ask people who barely know you and have no right to pry. “Well, you’ll try again later, right?”
So when Alan suggested just that, it was baby-making heresy. Illicit, somehow. Wrong. But it was either that or get back on the misery-go-round of if at first you don’t succeed you get back up on that horse and you keep on trying.
We quit. We stopped trying. We gave up. We failed. And we have never looked back.
People still sometimes ask why we don’t have children. “Well did you try this?” they ask, “or this?” as though we didn’t know the options open to us. And some of them see our decision as failure and some of them see it as strength and acceptance. And most of the time I don’t really care how they see it. It is so much a part of my life now, of our life together, part of what formed us, that questioning it is like questioning gravity or air. It just is.
And here’s what I most want to tell you about all this, the lesson I hope you learn: Nobody but you can decide if what you do is a success or a failure. Nobody.
And you can’t decide that for anybody else, either.
Our path is our path. And what goes into our decisions and what happens to us is mostly unseen by others and so often beyond our own awareness, too, that success and failure is such a harsh judgement to make against anybody, especially against yourself.
Yes, there will be so many times that you feel like you’ve failed, when you try to get somewhere and you go somewhere else entirely, when you are utterly disappointed with the situation you find yourself in right now. But that’s not where you’ve ended up. The end of the story has not been written and you don’t know what might change. Today’s huge disappointment can be the necessary step to tomorrow’s wonderful. Or next year’s OK. Life goes on.
For now, I’d like to try a new motto on you, one that goes against what many self-help types are peddling, the ones at least, who say, “There is only Do or Don’t Do, there is no Try.”
I say the hell with that. My motto? Please tell me how this works for you.
There is no Succeed or Fail. There is only Try.
“Nobody but you can decide if what you do is a success or a failure. Nobody.” Wow Barb…wow. I love that, so much.
I love where you have gone (and are going) with this topic.
With kids at such different levels (academic achievement, ability, etc) we strive to reinforce “try”, and teach that the most important thing in life is not winning or losing or being the best and brightest; it’s the fun you have, feelings you feel, and the things you learn just while you are “trying” and sometimes it sucks, yep it does. That and the fact that those trys that don’t work out so well can sometimes be SO very funny when looked back at over a glass of wine.
I totally forgot to mention the importance of a sense of humour… This series could go on for awhile!
And, might I say you two are doing an AMAZING job teaching your kids to try and enjoy the attempts? I admire you. There. I’ve said it.
We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for failure. It’s a pretty important component of who we are. Otherwise, as a race, we would be extinct. A race void of trying, of questioning, of taking challenges, of daring to venture. We never would have learned how to conquer the woolly mammoth if the first humans didn’t fail and were eaten. We never would have ventured to foreign lands and peoples if we were governed by the fear of failure; of ships sinking and drowning at sea. Our race never would have made it if we never tried…knowing there was a chance to fail. But we did try. We did fail. We learned. We got better. We continued to move forward. We survived. Where would we be if no one dared try to question? For example, geocentric views, as Galileo did? He dared to try. Ultimately, he was “tried” by the Inquisition, found suspect of heresy, was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. But he was right. You see, it’s not those who have succeeded so easily at everything that we can thank. It’s those who have “failed”. It’s the journey of failure, not the path of success that gives us character and defines who we are. To quote you: Today’s huge disappointment can be the necessary step to tomorrow’s wonderful. Hold your head up high, one step at a time, move forward…but never be afraid to try. Be afraid of not trying. Oh, and a lot of humour and wine can go a long way! Cheers!
And somehow, the ‘failures’ are far more interesting and better to be around than the ‘successes’.
Maybe it’s all that humour and wine…
maybe it’s because it’s 3 am and I’m just getting home from work, or maybe it’s the full moon or maybe (this is the likely explanation) you’re one hell of a writer, ’cause I was brought to tears.
Waaaaay more failure than successes in my life, countless amount of tries.
thanks Barb, for putting some perspective on all of this for us.
“I get knocked down, but I get up again…”
Thank you Sandy. Your ‘failures’ are better than you know. Your tries inspire me.
Now, please, get some sleep (tiptoes quietly out of the room).
Thanks for this Barb (and Alan). Drew and I only met you in person once all those months ago, but you should know as we struggle with the decision to have kids (don’t even know if it is a bio possibility–we’re still struggling with whether we even want it)–we think of you often–a happy, complete family without kids. It’s nice to know that that exists too. So many perfect ways to fail.
A lovely post.
Thank you Sacha. “So many perfect ways to fail”. I love that!
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To Sandy: No such thing as failure. Only a whole lot of things that did not work.
Ask Thomas Edison. Move on with gratitude for learning what did not work and the creativity to yet discover new possibilities.
To Sacha: Whether or not you want kids or will ever give birth, as a former foster parent, I assure you there are many ways to ‘parent’ without giving birth. Just consider all the possibilities…..adoption, fostering, giving respite care, being a special auntie, coaching kids in sports, teaching kids in an official capacity or volunteering, being a crossing guard, a Sunday School teacher…and many more ways than I am mentioning here.
You are only limited by your imagination. Not everyone wants to have kids, nor should they, but that need not stop you from choosing some small way to parent children.
Sometimes I think that as a society, we get more concerned about animals, especially pets, that we forget what is happening to kids. (AND I LOVE AND CARE FOR ANIMALS!) But I cannot help but wonder why our society does not seem to place children first. Absolutely first! Then one day I heard someone say that in this time when we FINALLY understand the sexual abuse of children, it becomes unsafe to show physical affection to other people’s kids as it COULD be misconstrued and used in a wrong context. So we pour energy into saving animals, which is a good thing too, but not at the neglect of our children.
Hmmm……not saying this is so, but just something worthy of consideration.
Anyway, I had best get off my soapbox here and back to the point that there are many ways to parent children. And I am confident that Barb can attest to this.
I can, indeed, Cath.
And you and your soapboxes are always welcome round here. xo