We Can Look Back, But Let’s Not Stare

Welcome to the Failure Hall of Fame.

I used to hate my history class at High School. No interest, and zero relevance. History is full of failure and strife. Story after story of plagues, famine, wars, and pestilence. Crashes, and more crashes, one step forward and half-a-dozen back. Discord. Dissension. Epic fails.

But study it we do. Heck, there are very erudite History Departments at major educational establishments worldwide. Well done. And now, I love it.

Those who work with their own episodes of failure will gain a sense of acceptance that allows them to process their experiences, learn from them, and move on without guilt. How many of us experience the success of failure with a deep feeling of shame for how we have lived?

Just think about it for a moment.

How many of us are confused about what we have done, and what that might mean about who we are?

In improving my self-awareness, I have the incredible opportunity to connect with others through the sharing of my past failings. Experience and understanding tell us we should not want to shut the door on it. When we embrace our past and learn how to see it in a new way it opens new entries for the future. It has for me.

You may have heard the saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” That is one of the main reasons we are told to remember our last failure. This belief tells us we can face our past, not live in any shame about it, and not run away from or deny it. Our past does not have to define us, who we are, or how we live our lives. We see this come alive every time someone in our lives tells their story of “failure experiences” with their head held high.

There is the time-tested adage that we “are as sick as our secrets.” The secrets we carry around with us that weigh us down. The same secrets that we promised we would take with us to our grave. Maybe we can be free, truly free, from the chains of the past that haunt us.

Let me be clear. Disruption is everywhere. We are people who have messy, three-dimensional, and often stress-filled lives. Every single circumstance that a traditional, past-way of living we had been able to count on to protect our behavior over the decades, has been upended. Untidy, chaotic, and muddled.

The discomfort of the truthiness of my self-realization was to appreciate that I lived in a constant state of instability and that I cannot possibly help others, at least to the best of my ability, when my own stability and assuredness is on shaky ground.

But I have found that the antidote to stress, or feeling overwhelmed, is not more sleep, not more rest, or to turn-away, but is a commitment to whole-heartedness. So, for me, it was a whole-hearted effort that was required to develop a full and attentive heart and mind.

I come from a Celtic heritage where all of our love songs are sad, and our war-songs are happy. And importantly, my new way has taught me, not to celebrate any battle-victories, or wins associated with my past ill-fated behavior-isms, but to stand self-assuredly amid the gritty combative confusion of times past.

And it’s true, that my life is built not around consistent, continued success, or who has won-through, but is a foundation that helps me stand with a sense of self, in the midst of defeat and loss. Who can sing when they are grieving, who can know the story from which they’ve come, and tell it no matter how difficult and fierce the origin of that story is? What a cherished gift it is to celebrate and to ‘sing’ with quiet, reasoned humility at the end of each day.

The reason that living in the now, just for today, occupies such an astonishing place in my life is that it represents a chance to celebrate during such incredible difficulty. And I need to know how to do that.

Living in uncertain times, I need some kind of assured presence which is independent of my past outside accomplishments, regardless of how conflicting they may be, with a new sense of happiness, of self-achievement which is instructive and resides independently of any definition of what it means to be successful.

It is often enlightening to hear at a memorial service of a friend or family member, once the more formal reflection on how they lived their life and the recitations of all their accomplishments have been shared, which is just a prelude to hearing what they held in their true affections, and what they truly treasured.

The atmosphere then quickens when you hear what they really loved, and what they cherished – the home-made telescopes, the sense of humor that kept the meetings alive at work, the outings with the grandchildren, the times together on the back porch – and you realize that what you learn when someone goes out of their life, is the loss of what they actually loved. Everything else is like chaff that is blown away. The embodiment of a grand life is a sum of what they held in their true affections.

You only have to know what you hold in your affections, what a first priority is for you, and then live your life as an emblem of faith in that belonging. By sharing the richness and abundance of our failures provides a therapeutic release that so emancipates us from our past and, more importantly, provides us with the gift of pure gratitude to share with others.

My approach (and the accompanying required work-effort) for living for today has helped me better understand that it is this natural gravity of well-belonging that is the secret key to self-compassion.


MaxCo Advisors

November 5th 2108