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How to guarantee you’ll feel like a failure

I spent much of the first 30 years of my life trying to succeed, win, be chosen, fix myself, feel special, and beat the odds.  (Sound familiar?)

I would hold up an ideal in my mind (perfect body, ideal business success, a certain financial accomplishment, a model way of mothering or friend-ing, etc.) and then I would bend and contort myself, working through pain and fatigue, and doing anything necessary, to fully morph into that ideal.  (Sound familiar?)

After spending much of my life caught in such madness, however, I developed some pretty surprising perspectives on where that madness comes from and how to change it.  So, onward, shall we?

I think one reason you and I might be so deadly afraid of missing the mark and failing is because we think that the resultant F grade on our soul’s report card will stain us forever as an untouchable.

But the crazy con of it all is that the one way to guarantee you’ll feel like a failure is to hold up an ideal and try to become it.

An ideal isn’t real.  It’s made up.  Often airbrushed, or spun out of thin air by higher-ups who don’t much like humanity, “the feminine,” or the unpredictability of life.

So you can’t ever really become that ideal.  You can try and try but you will always fail to truly hit that mark, because that mark isn’t actually hittable.

(Explains for me why I have felt like a constant failure (or fixer-upper) for most of my life!)

However, this one change in perspective completely changed this for me.

I came across this study, which was searching for the common trait or outlook or habit that might account for the “successes” of a bunch of “successful” entrepreneurs.

These entrepreneurs were creative types — putting new and needed ideas, creations, and ventures into the world — who could be described as either “visionary” or “crazy” or both.

The commonality between them wasn’t that they slam-dunked it every time; many of them had failure after failure alongside their successes.

It wasn’t that they came from money, or had supportive parents, or graduated magna cum laude from college, or drank green smoothies every morning, but that they had a healthy relationship with failure.

When I heard that — a healthy relationship with failure — I thought, “Ooooh, what is that? I want that. And I most certainly have not developed that in the course of my life as I’ve chased the tail of success.”

Along the road of developing a healthy relationship with failure, I learned, as one of my mentors is fond of saying, “There’s no failure.  Only feedback.”

What is failure, really?

I see it as what happens when you don’t hit the bulls-eye that you or someone else pre-determined for you.

But when you are not spending all your time trying to measure up to an ideal and contort yourself to fit it perfectly, then you can look at how well your creation worked (or how far it veered off the mark) as INFORMATION that you can use to make it even better next time, rather than INCRIMINATION of your character.

Sure, an ideal (or goal or measuring stick or deadline) is useful.  But I think we should see it as the direction we run toward rather than as the finish line itself.

A few weeks ago a dear friend of 10 years texted me to congratulate me on my new book’s launch into the world, telling me she was so proud of me.  Curious, I texted back, “What are you proud of?”

And she said, “It is spectacular proof you can do great things even when your life is a mess.”

She’s right.  While I was immersed in the creative euphoria of writing this book, Feminine Genius, my physical health was in crisis and my usually rock-solid marriage was shaky.  And I had an emergency C-section and moved homes three times.

So for years on end, I was several different kinds of mess.  I required long-ass hours to write but couldn’t skimp on self-care.  I needed to engage my soul in order to slip into the fertile ground of the creative process, so I couldn’t just kick back and “phone it in.”

If I had waited for all parts of me and my life to match perfectly to an ideal of health and happiness, I wouldn’t have written this book, which has been a long French kiss swoon with the creative process.

If I had stayed fixated on “success,” I would have missed many a moment of grace, not just with the muse of creation, but also with my cherub of a son or hero of a husband — or the goofy checker at the grocery store.

And as I think back over my life, I can’t remember a time when some part of it wasn’t a mess — where I had to get up and do my thing while nursing my heartbreak or my newborn baby, feeling uninspired or ill, having no money or too much debt.

And funny, most of my peak moments of joy, creativity, or fulfillment have always come when I’ve allowed the horror of the moment to mix with the sublime. When the ache of it all bled into the grace.  When the wild discomfort limped alongside the simple contentment.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think I might be onto something.  That embracing the paradox of it all, that giving up “the ideal” in exchange for the mess, might just be where the juice is.

In my experience, the creative process requires you be in as much the known as the unknown, to fall as you try to fly, to embrace your self-doubt as much as your self-assuredness, to vacillate between failure and triumph — often all in a single afternoon.

The “failures” aren’t a sign you’ve fallen off your creative path, they are essential steps on your creative path.

So the moral of the story is, please don’t wait until your life is shiny and tidy and perfect before getting into creative gear.

Of course, don’t burn the candle at both ends for too, too long. Please care for your body and mind and health. But you can be a mess and still create great and needed things.

In fact, dipping into the creative space — as crazy as it is visionary — will help you feel happier about being you. (Which is the glory we are all after but are guaranteed never to get when we try to morph into an ideal).

Think back on the books, the songs, the conversations with a friend, the random smiling eyes of a stranger, the line of a poem, the morning sun through the leaves of a tree — those bits of grace that changed the course of your day or your life.

I can still see the lemony light on the water of the canal in Amsterdam when I first read Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Wild Geese,” in a café during my mid-twenties. The words burrowed into my bones and made themselves at home:

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred years through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Please remember that you are likewise a source of such grace.

Grace does not need you to fit yourself into an ideal.  Grace just needs you to love what you love and to do your thing.

And we really, really need your grace.

Now your turn: Come share with us in the Facebook discussion a recent moment of grace you experienced, tiny or massive, any grace is welcome.

I’ll keep on keepin’ on if you will,

PS.  I can’t tell you what a treasure it has been to hear how Feminine Genius has evoked and invoked grace for folks reading it.  A few that have caused heart-gasms for me:

“I’m only on chapter 3 of this true gem of a book and the ideas and stories have already taken up residence in the bone marrow of my soul.  It’s like a love note from your heart to ours, like a song from the soul of the Mother to each of her beloved little girls, reminding them of what they’ve — we’ve — forgotten but known always to be true, that we are wise, beautiful, wonderful and powerful beyond measure.  That we are loved.  hat we belong.  That we are enough.”

“I just finished your book and I am inspired to say the least!  I recently realized that for 22 years at my job every time I made a mistake I would beat myself up pretty bad and essentially I am driven by fear.  I really appreciated the definition of masculine genius (productivity) and feminine genius (pleasure).  For someone who has worked in a male-dominated corporate environment for two decades this brings a whole new perspective and a method for getting out of this vicious cycle.  Thank you for this new view!”

“Currently reading Feminine Genius and it dawned on me — I don’t know how to feel my feelings!  I find this a refreshing and innovative read compared to some of the other ‘new-agey’ stuff out there.  There’s a quality of rawness and realness to your book that really resonates.  Thank you for this gorgeous, wisdom filled book.”

Come see if a copy wants to come home with you, along with some sweet bonuses, which will only be available for another week.

{Photo by In Her Image / Design by Chelsea Brady}

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