Failure is an option
Updated: May 3, 2020
The past few weeks have been more difficult than I imagined.
I’ve been having trouble sleeping - seesawing between pinching myself because my days are too good to be true and wallowing in a strange sort of sadness.
Just three weeks ago, I left my job to begin a new chapter with our family business. We have an office in the heart of downtown Fullerton and I get to work with my husband every day... not a bad deal. I have this overwhelming peace deep in my core that this is exactly where I am supposed to be. So, why have I been up late at night with my mind racing?
I think it’s because old habits die hard.
For nine years, I had a certain pattern of life. I got up early, got in my car or more recently, on the train, and went to work until about 5 or 6p. Then I came home, made dinner and did it all over again. That work had a certain structure to it. There were meetings, high demands, high work flow and competing priorities. I got used to juggling all of it and feeling like I had things under control. I got used to the weight of my black work phone in my hand and checking it every few minutes just to make sure no one needed me.
I got used to the rhythm of clocking in, nose to the grindstone and clocking out for a few hours before it started all over again the next morning. Work was the great escape for nine+ hours each day. And now, that crutch is gone. Working for myself means that my time is not predetermined or prewritten for me before I even open my laptop. It’s up to me to decide and create the road map for each day.
And, it’s strange. Freedom, it turns out, is much scarier than I thought it would be.
We are not supposed to talk about these things. I’m supposed to post pictures on Instagram of our new office view and the lattes from the coffee shop beneath us. I’m supposed to show how exciting and glamorous my life is… right? But, I didn’t begin this new chapter because of the glamour.
I did it because I am becoming increasingly convinced that the quiet, faithful lives are the ones that shine. Lives that are built from risk, vulnerability, hard work and a heck of a lot of creativity. Lives that thrive in small communities, rubbing elbows with other folks who are willing to admit that they don’t have it all figured out, but they want to keep trying.
So… why is it so scary?
The answer came to me during the quarterfinals of the Great British Baking Show. If you haven’t seen this show… you are missing out on deliciously decadent pastries, crazy challenges like building a chandelier out of cookies, and two hilarious hosts with dry British humor.
They bake outside in a white tent with the English countryside surrounding them. In short, it’s 55 minutes of cozy, comfy, warm fuzzy feeling entertainment.
After being on a journey with ten contestants, there were just four left in this particular episode. One of the bakers, Kim-Joy, had a mini-melt down. She didn’t know how to make mousse and became overwhelmed by it all. She started crying. She was creating a seven-layer cake and just needed the mousse to finish it. It looked like she was going to throw the towel in all together.
At the last minute, she made one last go of the mousse and put on a thin layer and then frosted the cake.
Out of the four people there, her cake ended up coming in second. The strength of the rest of her cake made up for her lack of ability to create the mousse. If she had just given up, she may have been out of the competition all together. She was shocked… and I was, too.
And it reminded me of a lesson that I seem to have to tell myself on repeat.
Most of the time, all we need to do is show up. Showing up is 90 percent of the battle… and it’s often the hardest part to do. Sometimes, I rather opt out and give into the fear that I won’t succeed then to finish the cake. And right now, knee deep in something new, there is a lot of fear that I won’t succeed.
I’m in unchartered territory and I don’t know if I will make the mousse right. But success, in the end, is not the battle.
The simple act of showing up is.
I saw Brené Brown a couple of weeks ago in person during a talk she gave at UCLA. If you know me, you know how often I quote Brené, reference her books or give them to people as gifts. My parents have two copies of “Daring Greatly” on their shelves that they haven’t read yet, I listen to her book "Rising Strong" in my car on the regular and James and I recently bought letters and painted them so that we can have a big bold reminder in our room to “Dare Greatly,” so…
You get the picture.
We saw Brené, my life guru, and she was everything I imagined she would be. Human, humorous and chock full of wisdom. She shared one of the stories from her books about her daughter’s swim meet. Her daughter, Ellen, was not the best swimmer and was scheduled to compete in the breast stroke… her worst stroke.
Ellen had a choice: she could disqualify herself from the heat or she could show up, swim and almost certainly come in last. Knowing that failure was the only option, she didn’t want to swim. And, I don’t blame her. If the goal is to win… and you know that you won’t, why try at all?
Brené’s encouragement to her daughter was this:
“What if, instead of the goal being to win the race, or to finish at the same time as your heat, your version of winning, and courage, is just showing up and getting wet? What if the bravest thing you could do at is just show up and get on the blocks and swim? No matter what happens, that is victory for you.”
Ellen decided to swim and she came in dead last. She was so behind that girls from the next heat were getting on the blocks for their race. She went to her mom in tears and said, “That was hard... But, that was brave.”
When I think about the kind of person I want to be, I want to be the kind that shows up. Even when I’m not sure that I will win… even when I know that I won’t. I want to show up.
The moral of the story is that we get to define what victory is for us. Only we know, deep down, what we need to do to be the bravest and most authentic versions of ourselves.
If we let this world define what it means to win for us, we will be signing up for a lifetime of disappointed hopes or scare ourselves so much that we don’t even try. Or worse, we could get the “win” that we always wanted only to discover that it didn’t give us the sense of joy or meaning we thought it would.
We need to define success on our own terms.
I walked away from the Great British Baking Show and Brene’s talk with the reminder that we can’t judge our value or our worth. We can’t judge what we are doing and how well we are doing it. That is not our job.
We are not meant to get into the business of judging whether or not our work is “enough.”
We are responsible for the heart, discipline and authenticity in crafting the work. We are responsible for showing up and being brave. We are responsible for finishing when we don’t always feel like it and pushing through when we’re ready to give up.
I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, because that is what I do when I have epiphanies, and I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. As I continue in this new season of life, where there are new structures to create and new paradigms of success to define, all I need to do is show up.
When I doubt my abilities, or a wave of fear washes over me, I will think of Kim-Joy and I will put the last layer on the cake. I will frost it and I will finish the challenge.
I will think of Brené’s daughter, Ellen, and I will show up with my goggles and swimsuit to the race. And, I will get wet.
It will be hard… but it will also be brave. And, that is all I need to be.