I need to tell you a little something about the “f” word.
No, not that one. But one that seems, to many, equally profane.
That word is failure.
Like many entrepreneurs, I have experienced my share of them amongst the victories. Some small, and one in particular, very, very big.
Three years ago I began work on a large scale project that meant a great deal to me. A project dedicated to inspiring and empowering women, something I am fiercely passionate about. A project which I knew was badly needed. And by badly needed, I mean I had a colleague private message me one day saying she was afraid to participate because she wasn’t sure she was worthy of being a part of it. I cried (hard) when I read that, and it fueled a fire in me to push forward. I worked diligently, so proud of this venture, and succeeded at some pretty lofty goals in the months leading up to the event. Amazing Twitter party numbers, social media campaigns that trended at #1, high profile influencers involved in making it happen, and the attention of some large corporate brands. I was on a high, ready to deliver this message to so many women who deserved to hear it.
And, at the worst possible time, something unraveled. Something devastating. And this project had to be scrapped. I tried every workaround I could think of but there was no saving it, and everything came crashing down.
While there was some embarrassment and a lot of worry over all of the people who had been let down, and a lot of subsequent work in dealing with fallout, the absolute worst part of it for me was seeing those women missing what would have been an incredible experience. I was utterly crushed.
In the weeks that followed, to my surprise, there was a huge outpouring of support from friends and even would-be-fans. I felt somehow unworthy of their attention and shied away from it, not quite knowing how to react.
Uhm. Wuuuut. Did I just say unworthy?
That realization knocked me flat on my face. I stopped interacting with people in my circles. Stopped working on a website I had spent 6 years of hard work building up. Stopped wanting to care. I sunk into a depression and soon also started having some odd chest pains.
Being what my doctor calls “high risk” for breast cancer, I was scared by it. I gave it a few days thinking it might pass, but it didn’t; it got worse. I went to the doctor and requested an appointment for a mammogram. She agreed and added an MRI and bloodwork. I passed all three tests and was fortunately still in good health.
The pains, however, continued. Being in a depressed state, I didn’t care as much as I probably should have at that point, confident in my test results and too fixated on my anger to care much about some weird phantom issue. Then one afternoon, a friend who had been concerned about me convinced me to come by for lunch. A good friend. The kind who knows by the look on your face that you need her, and who places a fuzzy blanket on your lap when you sit on her couch, then brings you a bowl of homemade soup. I sat there, bundled up and slurped quietly. She asked how I was doing, knowing I had been experiencing some discomfort, and noted that holding onto pain, anger, fear, and sadness can manifest as physical illness.
I let her words sink in for a few moments, and then blurted out “Maybe that’s my problem!”
She knew I had been awaiting a mammogram and asked “What side is your pain on?”
I told her it was on the left, describing the throbbing ache I’d been feeling.
She said, very matter-of-factly “Your heart hurts.”
That moment was an epiphany for me. My heart hurts.
All this time I had been fighting back against this pain that was not being allowed to escape my body. Here I am, supposedly this staunch supporter of self-care, a person who can’t stand seeing others denying themselves things they deserve: self-respect, happiness, time to heal… joy.
How freaking ironic is that??
I realized at that moment I had gotten completely lost. I tried getting back into the things I loved to work on: blogging, networking, social media, seeking opportunities, organizing events. I focused more on my family. I thought if I just fought back against this thing, this… grief… this fiery pain inside me with enough positive stuff, maybe it would eventually go away.
But it didn’t. My heart was still hurting.
And then one rainy night while I was out for a drive (something I do when I need to think), something else occurred to me. No amount of fighting it off, no amount of talking it out, no amount of covering it up or continuous driving was going to make this feeling go away.
I had been spending all of my time trying not to feel it, but that was exactly what I needed to do.
I pulled over and sat on the shoulder of the road thinking about that. And I burst into tears.
I cried for a long time, and when I was finally done, to my surprise there was still no relief. I was still lost. But this time, instead of continuing to fight it, I succumbed to it. I was tired of fighting, anyway.
I had thought fighting this agony inside of me was equivalent to not giving up my power. Not giving up my self-respect… my pride. But the opposite was true. Fighting it is what was giving it power, while taking mine away.
Focusing on a hundred ways to ensure it wouldn’t get the best of me was focusing on the power I was actually giving it. And suddenly I understood.
It’s ok to feel lost.
It’s ok to feel lost.
Sometimes getting kind of lost is the only way to ever really be found again. Succumb to it, that fear. That pain. Whatever it is. Immerse yourself in it. Give yourself permission for once to just feel it. Cry if you need to cry, and do so unabashedly. Feel those tears and let them run down your face. It’s uncomfortable to surrender. It’s counterintuitive, it’s scary. It means confronting your fears, your failures, your losses, your mistakes and 100 other excruciatingly painful things you’d rather not ever relive or think about ever again.
It means relinquishing control, which for me was especially hard. I am the last of the hard core perfectionists and failure is not supposed to be an option. But I allowed it to happen, and it cleansed me.
Am I found yet? I think I am. I am, of course, still in pain. I still grieve the loss of a dream I so badly wanted to share with the world. The project I thought was my life’s purpose. Finding out it wasn’t was hard.
But I’m moving on. I’m doing other things. I’ll be successful in current and future projects because I am driven and excited to try. But no matter what I take on, that one little part of me will stay behind. And I’m going to let it, because a great deal of self-realizations, creative ideas and a-ha moments have come to light since I stopped trying so hard to squelch the pain and the shame and most importantly, the FEAR of failure. And from those lessons, Strong and Worthy was born!
Failures happen. They do not define us. They are a part of the journey, and only ever the end if we allow them to be so. I believe mine changed me for the better, and in that sense I’m just getting started.
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