Trigger warning: depression, anxiety.
People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success. Psychology Today
This week’s topic (navigating failure) isn’t hard or scary for me, because I’ve chosen failure for so much of my life.
Navigating failure is historically pretty comfortable for me. I always knew my parents would love me no matter how often I failed. The stakes never seemed that high. In high school I existed in the land of not-trying, the world of mediocre.
It was better not to get my hopes up, not to be the stand-out nail waiting for the hammer. When waves of depression lapped at my body, I often succumbed without struggle. It was familiar, like a childhood blanket left in the rain—damp and with a hint of mildew when I wrapped it around my shoulders. I knew who I was and how to exist inside it.
Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
I printed out this poem and gave it to my mother when I was 23 years old. I mounted it in a picture frame I hand painted, and spent hours cutting out a photo of a maple leaf, my tiny sewing scissors snipping away every sliver of white that outlined the red edge to adorn it. I wanted it to be perfect for her. But I didn’t keep a copy of the poem for myself.
Like everything I loved, I felt someone else deserved it more.
I’m sure no one who knew me in high school was surprised when I got divorced twice or dropped out of college one year shy of a degree. I tried always to stand behind whatever husband or boyfriend I had, hoping to hold their shirttail as they succeeded. I had no goals. I only wanted small things for myself.
And then I started writing.
Of course I wrote in the passive voice, because I was a passive person. But I kept writing. I wrote pages I didn’t know were bad and I kept learning about writing until I could see their flaws, and then I kept writing until something in my heart told me that what I had written was strong and good and might matter to someone else. That maybe the world needed my best work. That maybe all of my broken and weird thoughts were exactly the kind of words someone else needed to read. And that feeling was my first success.
Those weird little fragmented essays won prizes and got put into magazines and on the internet and people read them. And that terrifying success kept growing. My weird little memoir got a contract and I stopped feeling like a failed human, but now I had to deal with the aftermath.
Success meant that my family read my words—or some of them did. And that cost me.
Success meant that I got criticized by strangers on the internet.
Success meant that every anxiety I had ever imagined woke me up at 2 am with gasping breath. (Always 2 am, no matter what I time I went to sleep.)
And I lived.
I lived and I kept writing because I no longer knew who I was if I didn’t write. And I knew that I wanted someone to read these new words, too. And I wanted to sell more books and go to more readings which instantly made me feel as if I was a show-off, a braggart, someone not feminine or good or worth loving.
This for me has been the biggest challenge: admitting that I am someone worth a spot at the table.
There is a responsibility that comes with owning our voices. I had three people in a week tell me to “grow a pair.” Who I was used to being was no longer in keeping with who I had become. I had to learn to shed the comfortable discomfort which had always surrounded me.
My eldest child apologizes for everything, even things that aren’t his fault. I see him stand with his hand in a twisting fist by his side, and as I watch him my fingers ball up and pick at my own clothing. I don’t want to model that behavior any longer. Neither of us can afford to live in the space that prioritizes nice and self-deprecating as our ultimate goals.
Now I am saying yes to the good things that are happening in my life, and this is my mantra:
I deserve to have good things happen.
I am strong enough to stand in the light.