Tuesday, May 8, 2012

In defense of failure (Finding the Beauty in Failure)

Sometimes I feel like I'm failing at life. Yes, me, a professional life coach who is passionate about seeing other people reach their dreams and destinies. Fellow coaches would jump all over that statement of "failing at life" and tell me that is my saboteur or inner critic at work. They may be right. But as I come up on 35 in two days time, I can't help but look around at my friends and acquaintances and see if I'm meeting the benchmark.

There are:
  • friends younger than me who own a home and have a great network of friends and family nearby
  • friends who seem to have mastered the corporate ladder more successfully
  • friends who are well regarded in their field
  • friends who have real vacations at least once a year (my last real holiday was in 2006!)
  • friends that seem to have mastered the balance of hobbies, work and relationships
  • friends who have thousands of twitter followers 
  • fellow coaches who have clients paying them gobs of money
We're a society of comparison and perfection. It would be so easy to look at someone's life at face value and make all sorts of assumptions that everything is peachy keen in someone else's life. That's just the surface story. Maybe the truth is you're a homeowner and overwhelmed with renovations that never seem to end or you were promoted to a higher position with added responsibilities you don't want but you don't want to turn down the pay increase. Maybe you have thousands of online admirers but are a total neurotic wreck in real life and you live in constant fear of being found out. Maybe you're hiding your credit card statements from your partner because you're racking up huge bills paying for escapist tendencies. What I'm trying to say is, the only person that can really measure your success is you, and comparing yourself to someone else is like comparing apples to doorknobs. 

The latin word,comparationem, ends up translating into "make equal with, liken, bring together for a contest." There are people who live their lives competing against one another. This happens among siblings, coworkers, friends. I'm not interested in competition and I never have been (unless you get me playing Settlers of Catan or any other awesome board game).

I've done some pretty extraordinary things for my 35 years. I've run a half marathon and never gave up on myself. I've faced cynical audiences as a stand up comedian and made them laugh. I'm navigating my identity as a child of deaf adults and what that means to me in the bigger picture of my life. I've invested in my ongoing education, to continually expand my world view and challenge myself. I've packed up on short notice and moved to a new country. Twice (because, let's be real, Texas is kind of like its own country). I left a job with great pay, benefits and great coworkers to go on an adventure and trust that the universe will sort it all out. I've stuck by my husband for sixteen years through thick and thin, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and health.

So yes, there are things I don't have and experiences I have yet to have, and maybe in someone else's eyes (and mine, occasionally) that makes me a failure. Sometimes not having all of that drives me, motivates me, to be better... but then I look at who I am. I look wholeheartedly at myself in the mirror and I know that I am defined by who I am. Where I have come from. Where I am going. If I can stay in that place, of fully, truly appreciating all that I am, standing in full integrity of myself, I know I cannot be anything else but truly successful.

I don't feel "better" having written this (I'm still a little bit sad), but I do know it is the truth. And when I can express my truth, the sadness will lift. And there will be many days of joy that follow. Days of appreciation and gratitude. Likely, the sad days will return here and there. But I, and you also, can choose to stand in the integrity of who we are. And no one can take that away from you.

My planned failures for this summer include: failing to make the New York Times best seller list; failing to make 200 people laugh; failing at making homemade pasta and ice cream; failing to perfect a new website for my coaching, writing and comedy; failing to have more paying clients. I'm gonna go full steam ahead and flail my arms failing. If there's anything my friends know about me, is when I get knocked down, I get up again. Never gonna keep me down.

P.S. Found this amazing TedTalk on Vulnerability and Shame, thanks to the anonymous comment left below. I feel like I found home today.  


  1. Waaaay to go Jean. Sounds like your motto is: "We're fallin' apart and it feel fantastic" in style with of Brene Brown.

  2. Jean, thank you for saying this. We too often forget that who we are is not defined by what we don't have, but by what we have experienced. I like what you said, and I'll be following your blog.

    1. Thank you, Tammy. I think in this day and age, we're bombarded by the "machine" that tells us who we are/should be and we've forgotten how to actually connect with our true selves, as well as others. Sometimes it feels like a long and lonely road, but I know that living true to my personal values is what makes me happiest.

      I look forward to reading your blog as well. :)