Here’s an email I just sent my dad. He had expressed to me he thinks he’s a failure because of the way my brother and I have rejected his religious values. He often wonders where he “went wrong.” I’m posting this because we all sometimes think we’re failures, especially after we make a big mistake. We also all have a natural power within ourselves to get out from under that wet blanket.
[Some parts have been redacted for privacy or clarification.]
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, since our last conversation. It wasn’t the first time you mentioned that you believed you were a failure because of [my brother and] my [secular] ways, but for some reason it sounded different to me this time. I now realize it’s because I’m in a different place in my life now than I was before. Before, when you said you believed you were a failure, I believed it was my fault. I had made you a failure. Which, in turn, meant that I was a failure. My self-esteem at the time was such that the idea of me being a failure fit into my general narrative that I wasn’t a good person, so being a failure would make sense. And of course, you believed everything was your fault and you were a failure, so I wasn’t able to offer any different perspective. I was agreeing with you. We were both failures.
I no longer believe I’m a failure. Well, it would more accurate to say I’m no longer interested in believing I’m a failure. I’ve learned it’s a judgment placed inside myself, by myself. Did I make a mistake? Probably. Maybe. Did I fail at being a perfect Jew? Definitely. But does that make me a failure? Well, that’s up to me to decide.
I’ve weighed the pros and cons of believing I’m a failure, and, Surprise! my life would be significantly better if I chose to believe that I was NOT a failure. Especially because I know that believing I’m a failure will not cause me to change my behavior.
Not only that, but if it did cause me to change my behavior, my future behavior would be rooted in the avoidance and fear of failure. For example, if believing that I was a failure caused me to turn my life around and start becoming more religious, which would be the only logical reason I’d allow myself to believe I’m a failure, then I would be practicing every aspect of my religion out of fear of being a failure, rather than out of love/respect/etc. I would not be searching for ways of succeeding, I’d be searching for ways to not fail. Which means rather than trying to get an “A” in life, I’d simply be making sure I didn’t get an “F.” Yes, both would mean I would “pass”, but I would bet my life I’ll learn a lot more and be happier, if I aimed for the “A.”
Calling ourselves “failures” is something only we can do. I think about how I’d feel if someone I respected called me a failure. Other than probably first agreeing with them, I’d punch them in the face. “Oh, you think you’re so perfect? You haven’t made any mistakes? Somehow this one thing I did made me a failure, but all of your issues don’t make you a failure?” Or something to that degree. (I was going to include a statement that included some profanity, but I think you get the point.) The point here is this is what happens when we call ourselves failures. The only person calling us these names is ourself. We’re inflicting our own pain to a degree we would never allow from someone else.
That being said, I know its a lot easier for me to type this email than it is to follow my own advice, but it’s something I’m desperate to work on. But it’s no wonder I have such fear of failure in life! It’s because I think that I’m constantly teetering on the edge. It’s like I’m constantly averaging a “D”. If I lose focus for a second, I’m at risk of getting an “F.” And the amount of work necessary to get an “A” is intimidating. From here on out, I’d like to believe I’m averaging a high “B.” And when I make a mistake, I’ll be content with the “C” I deserve.
Anyway, I was planning on just sending you this article, but it turned into something much longer. If you’re interested: http://liveboldandbloom.com/10/self-confidence/i-feel-like-failure