About a month ago, in a fit of pique, I tore my vision board from the wall and ripped it to pieces. Instead of being a daily motivator for my goals, it had become a reminder of how I had failed on all counts. I haven’t been out of the country since I returned from Turkmenistan, I’m still out of shape, and, as you may have noticed, I haven’t even been keeping up with my blog, let alone working on my book. I felt really low, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I was tempted to give up on absolutely everything, including life itself.
So what do you do when you get to the end of December to reflect on the past year and plan your goals for the upcoming one, only to confront the reality that you are an abject failure? If you’re like me, you first have a good cry. And by good cry, I mean balled up on the floor, wailing, face wet with snot and tears. Then, sleep. Eventually, you must remind yourself that there is a difference between failing and being a failure. Everyone fails. It’s the only way you learn and grow as a person. The only people who never fail are people who never try anything, and you don’t want to be that boring.
Then, you think about why you failed. In my case, I was consumed with navigating a new home and a new job, then another new job. The summer I would have spent traveling and exploring new hobbies was spent looking for work. If I’m honest, I probably could have still carved out time for writing and working out, but when you’re worried about whether you’re going to have to move again to be gainfully employed, it’s easy to forget other things. It’s important to cut yourself some slack. Sure, you could chastise yourself for “just making excuses,” and there are undoubtedly appropriate times to do so, but it’s also wise to acknowledge that sometimes “the best laid plans” go awry.
Next, remember that just because you feel like you failed on an epic scale, doesn’t mean that you did. There are bound to be things that you did accomplish or lessons that you learned, and you should acknowledge those things. Maybe I didn’t travel abroad, but I did a fair bit of traveling domestically and had a great many interesting experiences, including auditioning for Jeopardy and attending my first Renaissance Faire. Maybe I’m not in the shape I was hoping to be, but I do at least eat lots of vegetables, including ones eschewed by many adults like Brussels sprouts and spinach. Maybe I’m not where I’d like to be relationally, but it’s good to remember that when I had car trouble last winter and mice in my apartment, I was able to take care of myself as a single woman. Maybe I didn’t write two blog posts a month like I did when I was in Michigan, but I worked a full time teaching job for the first time in four years at an, initially, terrifyingly large school where a poetry unit I designed using music was lauded by my department chair. And when that contract expired, I earned a spot at another school in the district, starting all over again, navigating the new school’s culture and curriculum, teaching a grade level I have never taught before. These things are nothing to sneeze at, and I bet if you sat down and thought about it, you’d discover your own non-sneezeable feats.
Finally, start again. Evaluate your original goals and determine whether you should continue to pursue each or not. For some of your goals, you may realize they were good in theory, but maybe a bit unrealistic. If you honestly don’t have time to read a book a week, make your new goal to read a book a month. You may find that for some of your goals, it wasn’t something you really cared about after all; it was something you thought you ought to do. Maybe your goal was to run a marathon because you used to run and your friends post their race medal pics on Facebook, and you wanted to do the same; but, at heart, you don’t really enjoy running like you used to. People change. What was once an interest may not be anymore. Do what fits you now, not who you used to be or who you think other people expect you to be. If you’ve always been a tomboy but now have a strange, newfound passion for fashion design, get yourself a sewing machine and start making dresses. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. There’s no rule that tomboys can’t make (and wear) snazzy frocks.
If I’m honest, I’m not over my failures yet. Acknowledging your successes doesn’t automatically erase from your psyche your failures, nor should it, really, if you’re to grow. Failing sucks. When you couple it with a genetic predisposition toward depression, it can knock you on your ass, and it might take a while to get back up. The important thing is that you eventually get back up. I’m not up yet, but I’ve struggled from my fetal position to my knees, and, in time, I’ll get to my feet. It’s unhelpful to offer only platitudes to people who are feeling like failures, telling them to “turn that frown upside down” or to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” without acknowledging that it’s not always that simple, and some days it’s a struggle just to get out of bed. So, if you are someone who ended 2015 on a note of disappointment, I hope this post lets you know you’re not alone, that it’s okay to grieve your failures, but that with each failure is also an opportunity to learn and start anew.