There was a day when every time I heard the cliche, “you never fail as long as you learn from your mistakes”, I wanted to punch someone in the face who said or referred to it.
My experience was that failing sucks.
It just does.
The last thing you want to hear when you’ve messed things up, or things aren’t going your way, or the world has turned against you, is that it’s a great time to learn something fantastic.
Kindly and completely fuck off.
That was my thought.
From the moment we come into this world, we begin learning that the best and fastest way to gain approval and acceptance of the most important people in our life is doing what is expected of us.
Succeed in what others want from you, and you will be loved.
And the short cut we picked up was: be successful and you will be loved.
And unfortunately, we also painfully learn to believe the reverse of this — fail and you will not be loved.
We enter the propaganda machine school system with the explicit and clear understanding that when you perform well and get the right answers, you’re celebrated and loved.
If you don’t fall in line, and God forbid you get an F, you’re clearly undeserving of anyone’s respect or admiration. You’re frowned upon, ridiculed, and deeply feel the disappointment in the very people you’re trying to make proud.
And your naive, sweet innocent mind learns .. failure means not being accepted and loved.
When you peel back the complicated layers of the human psyche, being loved and accepted is the single most important thing we all crave and need.
The one, proven, absolutely guaranteed method to drive someone mentally insane is to isolate themselves without any human contact. We’re complicated beasts, and built to not just enjoy the company of others .. but actually require it in order to survive.
(it’s a complicated evolutionary story, but just trust me – we require others to actually exist and survive).
Thus, failure is the equivalent of death at a deep, subconscious level. Fail, and you’re on your own. Out in the cold. In short, you’re fucked.
Early on, our brains craft stories and paths to obtain acceptance and love – often, at any cost. And we learn early on to hide our imperfections, our mistakes, our weaknesses, our edges.
Now, step back and think about how this tragic drama plays out in life.
Fast forward 15 or 20 years, and we now wear whatever masks we need to ensure no one thinks of us as a failure, and everyone is amazed at how amazeballs we are. Amazing being amazing, isn’t it fucking amazing!?
Unfortunately, this sometimes cruel game of life sets us up with a whole bunch of paradoxes which cause us to behave in ways that are completely against what we actually need to feel complete, genuine and loved.
And this is one of them.
We start hiding our mistakes and fuckups early on, thinking that we’ll be judged for them. If we’re honest with people about our biggest mistakes and fears, we’ll be seen as less than perfect.
We’ll be judged and dismissed. No one will do business with us. Want to hang out with us. No one will love us.
And that’s simply not an option to our deep subconscious brain.
Yet, it’s this very aversion to talking about our faults that isolates us and moves us away from true connection and love.
Perhaps one of the most liberating truths you can learn and adopt in your life is this:
The right people will love you harder and deeper when you share your greatest upsets and mistakes with them. Being vulnerable is the only genuine path to deep connection and love with another human being.
Think about the person (or if you’re lucky, people) in your life that you truly consider your BFF. My bet is, the deeper your true loyalty, love and connection with them, the bigger the fuckup they’ve had in their life that you’re aware of and helped them through.
In other words, you don’t love them because they’re so great .. you love them because you know who they really are – and that’s what makes them great, not what they’ve achieved in their life.
If you have any doubt about this, pay attention the next time you’re scrolling through Facebook. While most of the filtered, Photoshopped, curated and carefully selected moments would make you feel like everyone is living in a Lego Movie (and they’re AWESOME!), you occasionally come across a post where someone’s shit got real.
And they shared something authentic and heart wrenching.
And what happens?
People gravitate to that, because each one of us knows that we’re just humans. We’re all unperfect and have our own shit. So the comments usually blow up, appreciate the authenticity and honesty, and a stream of people line up to be there for them.
We see someone else have the courage to be authentic and vulnerable, and it magnetizes us to them. Deep down, we wish we had the courage to be so honest — but we’re usually too concerned keeping up appearances to do that.
If life isn’t working out quite as you expected to this point .. if you’re working through something hard .. if you’re faced with a huge obstacle that you don’t know how you’ll overcome — congratulations. You’re a fucking human.
An unperfect, amazing human. Just like every single other human on this planet. Take solace in the fact that someone was in the same situation as you are, and they made it through. That proves you can make it through.
In fact, there were many people before you that faced situations FAR more difficult, challenging and even life threatening than you are now. And they made it through. They found a way.
And what allowed them to do that was to have the courage to do it. They didn’t give up. They knew that if they were courageous and they reached out to others, they could survive the storm. And the sky would clear and turn blue again.
The absolute worst thing you can do when you’re facing challenges is to turn inwards and isolate yourself. The oxygen for creating courage is human connection and sharing.
I’ve been through a number of massive challenges and heartbreaking failures in my life. There were times when I didn’t really believe I could make it through.
But thankfully, I had people in my life that either reached out when they knew I needed it, or that I was able to reach out to when I needed it the most.
And interestingly, often times these people just showed up in my life at the right moment, when I needed them most. And I was willing and able to be honest and vulnerable, which deepened and transformed the relationship with them.
Part of what got me through the darkest days — and okay, this sounds ridiculous when I think about what I’m actually about to type out — was knowing that, if I survived this, holy shit am I going to have a great story to tell in the future!
But it’s true.
I thought hard about how what I was going through could turn into fuel for someone else who might be facing similar circumstances and problems. I could use it to show someone else that there was hope, and a way.
Even just one person, and that would make it worth moving through the pain, the challenge, the frustration, the let down.
Ok, enough about me already.
Let’s talk about you.
First: if you’re beating the shit out of yourself about something you screwed up or failed at, congratulations. You’re human, you passed the test. The pony’s in the mail.
Second: don’t think for a moment that it will define you, or hold you back – unless you allow it to. That may sound or feel like personal development bullshit, but it’s true.
Think about the most amazing success stories of people you respect, and when you pay attention to their life — it’s a series of fuck ups, let downs, mistakes and embarrassments.
But it’s not their mistakes or failures that defined them. They didn’t allow that to happen. It was their courage to overcome those setbacks that defined who they are – and why you think they’re so fucking amazing.
Third: recognize that the biggest mistakes you’re humiliated about having gone through, recently or a long time ago, are going to be someone else’s salvation at some point in the future.
Your greatest mistake can define you — or it can be the guiding light that someone else will follow to get out of the darkness they face.
So the question is, are you going to continue to pretend that your life is a Lego Movie, or is it time for you to really connect with those that matter, and be a shining example of what an amazing human being is?
Because like it or not, the choice is yours.