“No matter what you do you need to be able to fail and know how to recover from it in order to one day succeed.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson—
The greatest lessons I’ve learned in life didn’t come about through my successes, but through my failures. Our failures force us to examine ourselves. In those moments when we are too stubborn to acknowledge that we’ve failed, the universe kindly allows us to fail again at the same task, the same effort, the same thing. “As you were,” says Mother Nature.
Right. As you were.
Failure finds us through many shades: failure to complete a task, to win at something, to successfully overcome, or even to comply with the norms of society–to name a few. Some of us view failure as something to be shunned and ignored, and like an ostrich with its head in the sand, failure is mentally blocked out. Still others view their failures as proof of a lack of worthiness. How we choose to see our failures has everything to do with how we experience these moments in life.
I know guys here who’ve spent a lifetime reinforcing their failures. And now incarcerated, they repeat well entrenched life patterns. When they encounter failure they are quick to blame others. Do you know someone like this?
However, what if we chose to view our failures as opportunities or as tuition paid for a valuable life experience? What if that painful experience of failure is Mother Nature’s way of saying, “You are worthy. I’ve allowed you to fail in order for you to grow.”
One of the things incarceration teaches you is that failure is what you choose it to be. All of us incarcerated souls have failed, the acts we committed are a glaring daily reminder. These past mistakes don’t have to define you, but if you think you are defeated by failure, then defeated you shall be.
There was a time when I viewed my failures as an indication of self worth. I hid my feelings under layers of anger that I projected upon those around me. I chose to see failure as something bad, and so it was.
When I was a boy living in Japan, I took Judo and I swam on the U.S. Embassy Swim Team. When I failed to place in a judo match, I saw it as humiliating failure. When I lost in a swim meet, I told myself it was because I was no good. But what is failure? Is failure about not coming in “first” place? Is it about not placing at all?
Then, when I was a teen back in the States, I ran track in high school. The one track meet that my father came to watch I ran the 70 yard hurdles. I had never run the hurdles. Not yesterday. Not today. Not ever. The hurdles were for boys who were giraffes in other lives, boys whose strides equaled two of mine, but on that day for whatever reason, coach put me in to run. Why? Maybe it was because I ran the 100 and the 220 and 440, all of which are distances for the fastest of boys. But the hurdles? I wanted so badly to say no, please coach I can’t do it, I’m just a small boy–but I didn’t. Why? Because I knew Dad was watching. So I ran.
I promptly finished last.
I felt I had failed miserably. For years after I had hoped Dad would come to another track meet where I could redeem myself by showing him how fast I really was, but Dad never did come back to watch.
For a long time I secretly went out into the fields and woods around our house and ran. Why? I don’t know. Maybe to prove to myself I was fast or maybe subconsciously I was trying to prove to myself I was worthy.
I ran along dirt trails, and through tall Summer grasses. I outran stray dogs and feral cats. I ditched the angriest of bees and I outran spitting possums. Then, one day I found myself alone in an open field where the Summer grass was low and the path straight and smooth. The wind pushed hard at my back and I took off. The boys in my gym class once asked me how I could get my legs to move so fast. I shrugged, having never really thought about it, and I said, “I just do.” On that day I caught the wind and for a distance we were one. I knew then I had to have been a cheetah in another life.
There comes a time in all of our lives where we are faced with that one moment of incredible stinging failure. It’s a moment when you’re at your lowest point, where darkness has gathered around you and the sky above has wallpapered over with angry clouds. It’s when you are no longer able to blame anyone else for your failures but yourself. Perhaps you, Devoted Reader, know what I’m talking about?
I still fail from time to time, but they are moments that rarely register in any negative way now. I see them as life lessons, and I simply keep moving forward. For us inmates, part of the journey toward the path of rehabilitation is about overcoming failure. By refusing to examine ourselves, we guarantee a future of inevitables. But, when we choose to accept and learn from our failures, the path forward becomes clear. Both for inmates, and for those of you who are free reading my words.
Today is a blessing in disguise.