The Art of Failure

In my career counseling course, I had an assignment which required me to review my career path.  While I’m glad to have finally “landed in the right direction”, finding my way to here has taken some time.  I end up with a bachelors in the social sciences after making a decision on this major, midway through my third year.  I graduated, with no marketable skill or career experience, and landed in a slew of dead-end clerical jobs.  With marriage and kids came the need to find a job that worked around my husband’s schedule.  We were financially strapped in these early years after a series of hospitalizations due to my son’s illnesses.  To make a long story short, due to financial need and others pragmatic considerations, I landed a weekend night shift job at a hospital.  In retrospect, my career path has been random and directionless in nature.  I’m like a feather in the winding following the wind’s direction to wherever it leads me…

Running From Failure

352202In reality, my lack of direction as a “feather in the wind” appears to be a function of my own inability to understand the unseen motivational forces in life.  It seems my desire for success, was more of a fear of failure.  In other words, as a moved forward in life, I was motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of painful experiences which scared me.  In this respect, I wasn’t looking to my future and acting on present concerns as much as I was running away from the past.   In these journal snippets I’ve included, I’m following through on a 453002journaling exercise from a DBT skills class I took about 5 years ago.  Here, I am journaling on a “what if” premise where I act strictly based on insecurities.  I then imagine the opposite of this scenario, where I acted on a “blind faith”.   It seems the price of seeking approval and validation from others, in my life has been an overriding concern.  The act of throwing this shit up here (from my journals) and starting a journal is a big step in the opposite direction.  It means putting myself out there and risking judgment of the two or three readers who might actually look at this.

It is for this reason I seek an alternative path

Examining These Unseen Motivational Forces…

When I started this blog, I was in the process of working on those things on my list I never got around to like: (1) going back to school, (2) repairing my relationship with my sister, and (3) getting into better shape.  While I began to see real progress towards most of these goals, I noticed I still hadn’t gotten around to starting this blog.  I dug out the old plastic bins from a hallway closet containing some of my writing and well-outlined content for a blog.  I decided I would simply work my way through these stacks of material and create blog posts from them.  What I hadn’t expected, is that this endeavor would cause me to reflect upon the course of my life.  When reflecting on journal entries like the one above, I see two key driving forces that guided my happenstance path toward today.   Firstly, I’m running on hope for something “more”.  While this isn’t a bad thing, something more is needed to create forward motion.  Radical acceptance – best reflected in the serenity prayer – is that missing puzzle piece.  I review these insights below…

Running on Hope….

In these old plastic bins sitting in the hallway closet, I found a copy of a book titled “So Far From Home” (Wheatley, 2012).  While I actually haven’t read this book cover-to-cover yet, it contains a description of hope that is worth mentioning.  Firstly, the author begins by noting what’s good about hope: “Hope is not a feeling of certainty that everything ends well.  Hope is just a feeling that life and work have meaning” (Wheatley, 2012, p6)

As I understand this definition of hope, it is an appreciation for what gives our life meaning.  The problem with hope – when no other motivational forces are present – is that it leads to ineffective future forecasting.  Wheatley, (2012) makes the following comment in her book about hope’s double-edged sword:

“Hope is such a dangerous source of motivation. It’s an ambush because what lays in wait is hope’s ever present companion, fear: the fear of failing, the despair of disappointment , the bitterness of exhaustion that can overtake us when our best, most promising efforts at rebuked, undone, ignored, destroyed. As someone commented, ‘Expectation is premeditated disappointment'”(Wheatley, 2012, p6).

Radical Acceptance

imageUnderlying my failure to create headway towards these life goals (until recently) is a refusal to deal with reality on reality’s terms. In dialectical behavioral therapy, a concept is taught to clients who are coming to terms with the a painful truth: “Radical acceptance means that you accept something completely without judging it” (McKay, et al, 2007, p6).   The serenity prayer summarizes this concept succinctly…

Willingness vs. Willfulness…

The problem with “radical acceptance” is in learning to apply it “in real time”.  While sitting here and engaging in an armchair discussion of this concept is easy, upholding this stance with life coming at me is difficult.  It is for this reason, I find it useful to compare two approaches to life in the table below.  One approach is a willful resistance, the other is a willing acceptance….

Willfulness is a resistance and conscious denial of critical components of life.
Willingness is an acknowledgement of the realities of my life today – without judgment.
Willfulness is a desire to engage in life only on my terms with an attitude of “needing to be right”.
Willingness can be seen in a desire to respond to a situation as it requires with a desire for effectiveness.
Willfulness causes us to remain stuck as we sit on our hands and refuse to make necessary changes
Willingness provides us clarity as we engage fully in the situation, with an understanding our role in things.
A willful mind fails to understand that acceptance does not equate to endorsement of what happened or that “they are off the hook”.
A willing mind understands that forgiveness and acceptance are essential to letting go of hurt and begin healing.

…”failing with style”


McKay, M., Wood, J., & Brantley, J. (2007). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook: Practical DBT exercises for learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation & distress tolerance. New Harbinger: Oakland, CA.
Wheatley, M. J. (2012) So far from home: Lost and found in our brave new world. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Retrieved from:


Share This: