For Alice, who asked

She posed this question to me quickly over text in an early afternoon in November: What do you do when you fail at something? How do you make yourself feel better and motivate yourself to either try again or keep going?

She said I probably didn’t know the answer because I probably hadn’t ever failed at anything in my life.

If she could have seen how high my eyebrows went up into my hairline when I read that, she would have laughed.

I mentioned the whole mess I made of my life.

She said she thought my decisions were smart and brave.

So I told her lesson number one and never finished telling her my thoughts so here they are, for you Alice, and for anyone who needs them.

One: “What you feel is failure, may often times look smart and brave to other people.” Perception is the mother of all kindness. Being on the inside of something difficult never seems as awful to the friend we are telling things do. Bravery is not the ability to circumvent failure, but in fact experience it, live in it, figure it out and become better equipped at not beating yourself up over it. Everyone fails, but how you move within it is what makes you brave.

Two: “Learn to adjust quickly.” Not every thing that goes wrong needs to be a 10 on the fail-scale. Sometimes we trip up the stairs, say the wrong thing, make a mistake, call someone by the wrong name, ignore the work email, double-book, leave the light on. These aren’t 10’s. These are degrees of things 5 and under. Perspective is the arms in which we can rest our trust. Note the issue, do what you need to fix it and move on. You do no favors to yourself or anyone else by holding on to embarrassment. It doesn’t get you anywhere and it doesn’t help you grow. Adjust to the mistake and continue your day. No one is actually paying that much attention you.

Three: “It’s ok to take time to feel bad.” Feeling your feelings are your right as a human, and you should feel them and feel them good! Life is tough, and sometimes it gets the best of us. Ok, so what? Happens to all people who dare bravely, try greatly and continue to hit their personal boundaries and bust through them. “New Level, New Devil.” as quoted from the book “You Are A Badass”. You don’t get better staying the same, you get better by growing. Annoyingly, part of growing is failing. Oh well. Look at it this way: if you felt like you were the best ALL of the time, it would mean you weren’t progressing. And if you aren’t moving forward you are moving backwards.

Four: “Is this going to matter in a month?” This is the question I pose when I am in a rut of feeling sorry for myself because I messed up. Most of the time I think “YES, IT WILL MATTER! I WILL NEVER LIVE THIS DOWN.” But that is hardly ever the case. You will probably not remember your screw ups as much as you remember how you learned from them. You will hardly remember falling down, as deeply as you feel the pride of picking yourself up and moving forward.

Five: “If you feel really bad, take a minute to regroup.” We’ve all been there. Life just smacks us right in the face with a challenge. We come up to the diving board and choke. Instead of a graceful swan dive, it is a belly flop. It is horrifying. You should probably quit. Why did you even start in the first place? Ok, ok. These thoughts are normal. But they aren’t helpful. In these moments; I always step back. I will get a cup of tea, reach out to a close friend, read a book, call my mom, clean something, take a bath, move out of the city, put pause on the relationship. It’s important to regroup because tearing blindly though life just to prove something is no way to live. It’s confusing and its disconnected. Personally, I am introverted, so I always go inward and think, write and talk it all out. Then I can move on. ‘Taking a minute’ may literally be a minute. It may be a day, a few weeks, or months. No one gets to dictate how you process your highs and lows. Only you get to decide how much you will learn. My Dad always says “It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it.” Well, hard things, annoying things, embarrassing things, horrifying things, unimaginable things are going to happen to you; you have to respond to them. The best and truest way to do so is to react out of a place of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge comes from reflection and care, kindness and understanding of our sweet, sweet selves.

PS–As a general note: It is ok to change your mind, leave your unhappy partnership, leave your unhappy city, stop the career you thought was going to be your life’s blood. It is ok to change directions. The wind does it all the time. Moving towards happiness, harmony, the chance for something better, trying a new thing, or an old thing in a new way–that is never failure; it’s hope. It’s faith. It’s trust that your intuition knows more than you. Intuition is a tool that needs to be practiced as readily as violin lessons. The more you practice the more you trust. The more you trust the stronger you become. Fear never goes away, neither does worry, you will hardly ever feel you are doing things right. But if you use your heart as your compass, life will turn out (not smooth, perfect or easy) but at least truthful, connected and joyful.

Or at least, in the very, very least: yours.

Anyway. Amen.

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