My Journey from Discovery to Acceptance to Change
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Hope Through Authenticity

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Failure Reframed

Have you ever failed?  Of course you have.  Maybe in small ways.  Maybe in huge ways.  Failure is as universal as anger, sadness, joy, tears and laughter. 

If you’ve followed my blogs, then you are aware that I had a mental breakdown in April 2012.  At the time, I owned and taught at a small school.  This school was conducted in my basement – imagine 30+ kids coming in and out all day!  The school lasted ten years and when it ended, it ended with a boom and a crash!  For the last five years, I’ve considered that entire school a failure. 

My failure.  ME the failure.  Do you see the difference – it wasn’t that something I did failed, it was ME that was a failure?  That idea continues to be paralyzing in many ways. 

I’ve been working in therapy, with friends, with my husband to reframe it – after all, rationally I get that it lasted 10 years and saw several dozen graduates go on to pursue their dreams.  But knowing it and believing are not synonymous. 

About six months ago, I joined a Pathfinder Group Coaching program.  This was NOT therapy – this was more geared towards career/personal goals/accountability.  As you can imagine, a lot of emotional stuff is involved in finding your passion and the courage to pursue it.   Last night the focus was dealing with failure.  Not a fun topic but more necessary than I realized. 

For the first time, I shed some of the school baggage.  I woke this morning feeling freer – not free – but freer than yesterday.  I wanted to share because what we did could be applied in so many ways – let’s just get started and you’ll see what I mean.

Please do the steps before you read my responses – this is your exercise.  I already did mine!

Step One: 

When you think of the word failure, what images/words/messages come to mind?

All of us had different answers – embarrassment, shame, personal expectations, societal expectations – for me, though, the idea that I AM THE FAILURE beat me over the head.  The idea of failure became a judgment ON me – my value/my worth – rather than on the situation or the facts.

Step Two: 

Take 2-3 minutes to list areas that you consider a failure.  Once you’ve done that, choose ONE to work with.

I’m not going to share my entire list – it was long.  She asked to choose one that still held some emotional pain.  I chose the school.  

Step Three: 

Take 3-4 minutes to make a list of all the things your Inner Critic tells you about this – how do you condemn yourself?

This list could go on for pages --- but here are some of the big ones:

  • You didn’t deserve that school anyway – you weren’t qualified.
  • It’s 100% your fault it failed – you didn’t set boundaries.  You never said no. 
  • You thought you were such a hero – that’s what you deserve for believing yourself to be so high and mighty.
  • You hurt more people than you helped.
  • If it was such a good thing, surely those people would still be in your life – you basically destroyed all your relationships too.  People only pretended to like you because you were doing something.  As usual, you have to buy friends.
  • You – the good Christian – God abandoned you for sure!
  • You let EVERYONE down – the students, the parents, the co-teachers, you’re own family, even your parents
  • You couldn’t even close it down with professionalism – you just went off the deep end!  You had to make VB and Dave do it!  So weak!
  • You always always always disappoint!  Just stay hidden!

Is that enough?  It was certainly painful enough!

Step Four: 

What were the negative repercussions due to that failure?

Think about your failure.  What were the lasting negative consequences?  This is my list:

  • Students were left hanging with limited time to find a solution.
  • I lost a lot of relationships that I believed were strong and felt very important.  (I actually listed those relationships)
  • I had to re-assess my faith – what I believed versus what I was taught to believe.  Does the difference make sense?
  • Years of wandering – it’s been 5+ years and I’m still not content/settled (but, I’m getting there)!
  • My house became oppressive – I lived every day in the place of my failure.  It became haunted.  I could not go in the basement.  We eventually just sold it and moved.
  • I lost money – income, tax breaks, plus all the stuff I’d invested in

I want to pause here for something that happened during this exercise that shocked me and started the healing – every time I wrote one of negative consequences, my brain gave me the other side of the coin.  For example, every child did find a place to be (thanks to VB) and I believe all their situations were positive.  I did lose relationships – but if they weren’t strong enough to withstand this trauma, did I need them?  Making faith MINE is a good thing.  You get the idea.  This may not happen to you – but be attuned – you just may not be letting that part of you speak loudly enough.

Step Five: 

What are the lasting positive consequences due to that failure?

She had us think about what we gain, what we learned, what skills we acquired, what qualities were developed, what other possibilities appeared, etc.

I sure hope you’ve been doing your own failure analysis because here is where it gets good!

  • My health improved – physical, mental, emotional – I allowed it to become a priority
  • I was forced to make some life changes that needed to happen
  • I learned to say ‘no’
  • I learned to recognize when I’m feeling overwhelmed and how to correct my course
  • We love our new home and our quality of life improved (smaller, prettier and Dave’s commute is 45 minutes shorter!)
  • I have time to pursue MY interests (rather than figuring out Marine Biology, for example)
  • My marriage is much better
  • I think my parenting skills improved – if nothing else my kids feel comfortable discussing their own emotional issues
  • I no longer have to pretend (I’ll write another blog on this – the change was nothing short of miraculous)

Step Six:  

Go back to step one – how do you perceive failure now?

  • For me, failure means: 
  • Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my path.
  • There is a deep meaning in failure if you take the time to look.
  • Failure is survivable and thrivable (yes, I know, that’s not a word) --- failure is not final
  • Every failure is an opportunity to learn new skills, gain understanding and perspective
  • Next time, I can change the conditions
  • Trying is never failing

My Real Epiphany

All of the above is great -- but, the one epiphany that changed my life was this:
It took incredible strength to go to rehab, to let others take control, to move into health.  Only because of this failure was I willing to learn new skills and become my authentic self.

NOW THAT’S SUCCESS!

Pathfinder Group Coaching

I will be asking the professional that runs this group to approve this blog – I do not want to “steal” her work.   I will also put a link to her website below – this Pathfinder Group Coaching was worth every dime/every anguish/every minute!  As I said above, this group was life changing in a different (but complimentary) to therapy.  If you feel lost in any area of your life -- take the time to check it out:  http://meredithwalters.com

At the end of last night’s session, one of the participants read the following poem.  Perfect!

I do not have permission to publish this – but I figure since it’s free on the web, I can share … here is the link:  http://sites.uci.edu/mindful/files/2013/10/Autobiography-in-Five-Short-Chapters.pdf

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

“There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk”

Chapter One

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault . . .
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there.
I still fall . . . it’s a habit . . . but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

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    In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....

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