Notes on Courage
Inner work for outer action.
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.
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.