Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
The Art of Failing
For the past month, I have been training teenagers from throughout Minneapolis in work readiness skills to prepare them for a summer internship with the STEP-UP program. Each Saturday in March, I spent 7 hours with a new group of 16-21 year olds, talking resumes, interviews and the importance of communication.
One of the things discussed each week is the role that character and attitude play in our success. Part of that discussion includes an exercise about famous failures - Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Seuss - all folks who experienced failure. All folks whose lives and work have made such an indelible imprint on our culture, our country, our everyday lives, that there's no mistaking their name or how the world is different because of them.
I'm always amazed by the discussion this exercise evokes. Some are quick to point out that it wasn't Elvis Presley who failed when he was told he wasn't good enough for the Grand Ole Opry, it was actually the guy who didn't see his talent in the first place. That all 23 publishers who first rejected Dr. Seuss probably went to the grave kicking themselves for not signing a deal with him. The lesson from this exercise is keep going, keep persisting, keep practicing, keep making ends meet, because eventually the right person, the right time, the right opportunity will come along and all that rejection, all that unrealized potential will be seen and valued.
The art of failing is to hold on to the belief that each failure will lead to success. Actually, that each failure is a success.
If Abraham Lincoln had won one of the first eight elected offices he ran for, he probably wouldn't have been the 16th President of the Unites States. He wouldn't have been the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing African Americans from slavery. At the end of the day if he hadn't succeeded at losing those earlier elections, there may not have even been a Civil War, let alone an Emancipation Proclamation.
We are all meant for greatness. We are all meant to contribute our gifts in our own unique ways, at our own pace and timing. The art of failing is to know that your gifts are your source of greatness, to trust that your greatness will come, and to persist until you find it or it finds you.
I've often wondered what I would say if I were asked to tell someone about a time when I failed. In the midst of all the talk about failing, I couldn't really think of a time that I've failed. I've been disappointed many times, I've had countless proposals rejected, lost out on promotions, made other people mad or upset, but honestly none of those things felt like failure. They were all learning experiences. They all taught me invaluable lessons about myself, about the world, about life. Without those moments, I'd be a different person, a lesser person. And at the end of the day, they were just moments, just drops in the bucket of a lifetime.
Yesterday marked the third birthday of The heART Center. April 1, 2013 was the day I signed the lease and took possession of the keys to courageous heARTS' first space. By most accounts, the past two years have been highly successful. As a brand new nonprofit with no donor base or community awareness we've managed to keep the bills paid and offer year-round programming with a steady base of volunteers and supply donations. Success! By their accounts, we've already made an impact in the lives of many youth too. Success!
There is so much greatness, so much opportunity and potential just waiting to unfold, but some days I struggle with lack. I wonder about the seeds that I've planted over the last two years and whether they will flourish. I've spent most of my waking hours tending those seeds. So much time in fact that I forgot to nourish myself - forgot to care for my own needs.
I've been making changes, because at the end of the day the only failure I could ever actually experience is the failure to love myself. And loving myself is risky.
Loving myself forces me to create boundaries- to say no while knowing that other people might be disappointed or upset. It requires me to give more thought to how my decisions will effect me rather than my autopilot mode of caring for the needs of others, protecting and nurturing their hearts at the expense of my own. Loving myself challenges me to know my own value, and stand up for my own self-worth.
The art of failing, is the art of flying. It's just a matter of perspective.
Without even realizing it, D and I had our first (what I hope is annual) Self-Love Day yesterday! Neither of us are super into Valentine's Day and with the whirlwind of special days leading up to the 14th, it's lost its remaining luster. (D's b-day, Christmas, Anniversary, my b-day = tapped out)
This year's Self-Love Day was all about purpose. courageous heARTS has been my purpose for almost my entire life. Before it became real, I figured it was my end game-- the thing I'd spend my life trying to achieve. Given that I opened the doors to the heART Center during my 30th year, I started to wonder what was next-- how else I could use my experiences and expertise to influence the world around me.
I started the day finalizing a grant for heARTS then moved on to other opportunities to influence. I'm going to be a guest blogger for MinnCAN this year and have been developing an idea for my first post. Yesterday I had an aha that moment that could really change the conversations that are happening in the world of education (at least, if people dig it), and spent some quality time further developing the idea.
Meanwhile, D has been dealing with some pretty significant work stress. As he has been processing with me, I've been able to practice the other vision I have for myself as a resilience coach. Yesterday we both felt triumphant when he was able to make meaning and FIND PURPOSE in this really hard situation. By paying close attention to the lessons hidden within the situation [his own strengths and skill sets, the needs that exist in the world, and (probably most important) the *joy energy* that whooshed through his body when all the pieces clicked], he was able to move away from resentment and into gratitude. Not only has he found the purpose, but he also has a plan-- and I'm super freaking excited for him!
My last act of self-love for the day was creating my sacred studio! We've been cleaning out lots of unneeded stuff since the beginning of the year and I had a vision for my studio space in the basement. It had previously been our litter box room along with the place all the stuff that doesn't belong anywhere in particular goes.
It feels so good to be giving attention and intention to my own creativity again! When I started heARTS, ALL of my art supplies went there. Understandable at the time, but looking back I wish I had loved myself enough to keep my own stash of materials at home. I deserve to have my own practice and giving to others shouldn't come at the expense of my own needs. I've been slowly learning that lesson, re-accumulating paints and brushes, and making space for creativity in my life again.
Our non-traditional lovefest was the perfect way to spend a Saturday. As we took care of ourselves, we found connection through our happy hearts. Like I said, I'm looking forward to the many years of Self-Love Day ahead!
Take these broken wings and learn to fly.
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I started swimming lessons. In order to pass the first level, I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool and use the skills I had learned to stay afloat. I was so scared that I wouldn't remember how to swim that I refused to jump. It didn't matter that I had been doggie paddling in the shallow end for most of the summer, that there were instructors there to keep me safe, or that I would fail the class and have to start over. The fear of not being able to touch the ground held me back.
It still holds me back.
It's no longer the lack of confidence about my skills that keeps me grounded. I know that I have the skills to fly. I've studied, practiced, and paid attention. Still do.
These days, I find myself struggling to fly because of the little voice in my head that says:
"Don't be too confident."
"Don't be selfish."
"Don't shine too bright."
We all have that little voice and it can do a number on our sense of self-worth and add weight to our flight.
But guess what?
There's a BIG voice in my heart (in all our hearts), that lightens the load. I know that when I listen to that voice good things happen-- no, no-- great things happen!
In the lead up to the launch of heARTS, I was filled with guidance from that BIG voice. I was following my heart and it felt so right. With each new step in the process, new opportunities arose that felt like Divine encouragement to keep me going.
As my dream became a reality, I had a harder time hearing my BIG voice. The day to day realities of running an organization pulled my head from the clouds and the little voice started to get louder again. As the volume of that little voice increased, my satisfaction with my DREAM JOB decreased.
Exhaustion, confusion about my personal/professional identities, fear about money, and grief over the loss of time for friends, family and even the dishes, caused me to question my heart. Suddenly, thoughts of getting a "real job" ( WHAT?! ) crossed my mind and I had to start doing some serious soul searching and self caring.
Aug. 1 has become a kind of re-birth day for me-- my life day. Last week, I took a reflective journey to the memorial and the river. Throughout the day, the Universe gifted me with reminders that even birds have to learn how to fly. Baby feathers floated into my path throughout the day and when I returned home in the afternoon I received the biggest gift of all-- flying lessons!
A family of hawks, who have been nesting in our neighbor's tree, used our backyard for flying lessons. Three hawks lined our 4' chain link fence and another was on the ground, all appeared to be fully grown. At first we thought the one on the ground was injured, it was flailing about and struggling to fly. We wondered if the other three were watching over it- protecting it. Then we noticed that the hawk on the ground was trying to grasp chunks of woods-- remnants of a tree trunk. Turned out he was learning how to fly with the additional weight of the wood-- mock prey I suppose. Eventually another hawk took to the task and the first flew up to the fence-- assuring us that what we were witnessing was indeed flying lessons. (You can watch the action yourself in the video below.)
The Universe's message to me that day was loud and clear-- permission to fly.
Just like the hawks, I'm still learning how to fly. They helped me understand that I don't have to rid myself of the weight (the grief, the self-doubt, the guilt) in order to fly. I need to learn how to fly with those feelings-- despite those feelings. I am learning to turn the volume back up on my BIG voice and trust my wings.
About the blog:
This space holds thoughts and ideas generated from my personal journey of healing and recovery from trauma, co-dependency, and white supremacy culture. Opinions are entirely my own.