Back From Failure

Upset, Mad, Crying, Woman, Sad, Panicked
Attending a national conference in 2003 where I was scheduled to speak later in the program, there just happened to be a slot just before a break for me to get up and give a pitch on the subject I was going to present on. But there was a significant problem: not that I understood it when I agreed to get up and talk, but I was totally unprepared to make a pitch (to sell what I needed to say in a thumbnail sketch).
Immediately I got up before my peers, like intimidated suddenly by their presence in a way that confused me at the timeI became uncharacteristically flustered and bumbled my way through a short demonstration which ended up being a complete disaster. If you have ever sat down after one of these sorts of performances and been in immediate mental and emotional turmoil, you’ll know what it feels like to have neglected in a traumatising way.
Some failures hit that hard that we question our purpose, our place, our existence, even our existence.
But I wasn’t just traumatised for the rest of the afternoon, feelings of ineptness, embarrassment from shame, and guilt, and of course anger that I had harmed my reputation, and disappointment that I would let down not only myself but others who were counting on me, continued to swirl around in my mind and haunt me for weeks afterwards.
Whatever I did I could not seem to escape the strength of the complex anxiety hauled in my body, mind, and soul. I know it affected my home life in addition to my work life. I was unable to be present in my interactions with my peers, customers, wife or kids. I was easily angered because I was angry with myself, and I transferred that onto others.
All because of one brutal failure.
Why did one collapse strike so hard?
This 1 failure didn’t just harangue me for a couple of months, it shifted my confidence to talk professionally for a year or more. (Then, of all things, I had my world completely turned upside down, and in the process became a preacher!) There was something about that experience of completely failing that shook me to my core, shattering what confidence I had.
I know I’ll have plenty of friends here in raising my fears and concerns regarding public speaking. Getting up to talk to individuals has been one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, but it is not anymore. I used to wonder, ‘Why do I do this?’
There are times in all our lives when we face the humiliation of failure in a circumstance that bloats intrigue to the point that the experience traumatises us. And injury changes us. It challenges our thinking to such an extent that we’ll do almost anything not to have a replica of such a distressing experience.
In some ways, injury creates anxieties in us, logically for our defense, but illogically in ways that we become hypersensitive to anything even remotely re-traumatising. In the outer extremes injury completely interrupts our lives, and what was can never really be again. Unless we can somehow miraculously reinvent ourselves.
Among the best lessons I have learned from incidents that elicit injury is to drop my perfectionism. Also, to understand that certain events are the fate of us all (not excusing traumas of abuse). Along with the value of honesty, which attends to the top two issues.
Some events that involve injury can actually be good for us, in that we are given the opportunity to learn how to deal. Again, however, this is not about trauma we’re afflicted with from chronic or acute abuse, though I do believe there is hope for a semblance of recovery. (Remember the title of the article; it is not about the unrelenting trauma experienced by victims of abuse, particularly child abuse.)
Life is as much about learning how to survive injury because it is about learning how to thrive successfully.
One thing injury has taught me is how fast I allow fear to control me in certain circumstances. Awareness is a miracle; to become actively attentive to what ought to not frighten me but does. The invitation then is to follow the fear with fascination.
Fear copes well with the security of gentle curiosity.
If fascination remains gently interested it can help fear to trust in hope .

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