Bouncing Back From Failure

Girl, Woman, Feelings, Betrayal, Sadness
Attending a national conference in 2003 where I was scheduled to speak later in the program, there just happened to be a slot just before a break for me to get up and give a pitch on the topic I was going to present on. But there was a significant problem: not that I knew it when I agreed to get up and talk, but I was completely unprepared to make a pitch (to market what I needed to say in a thumbnail sketch).
Immediately I got up before my peers, as if intimidated suddenly by their presence in a way that confused me at the moment , I became uncharacteristically flustered and bumbled my way through a brief demonstration which ended up being a complete disaster. If you’ve ever sat down after one of these sorts of performances and been in immediate mental and emotional turmoil, you’ll know what it feels like to have failed in a traumatising way.
Some failures hit that hard that we question our purpose, our place, our presence, even our existence.
But I was not just traumatised for the rest of the afternoon, feelings of ineptness, embarrassment from shame, and guilt, and of course anger that I had harmed my reputation, and disappointment that I would let down not only myself but others who were counting on me, continued to swirl around in my mind and haunt me for weeks afterwards.
Whatever I did I couldn’t seem to escape the intensity of the complicated anxiety borne in my body, mind, and soul. I know it affected my home life as well as my work life. I managed to be present in my interactions with my peers, customers, wife or kids. I was easily angered because I was angry with myself, and I unconsciously transferred that on others.
All because of one brutal failure.
Why did one failure strike so hard?
This one failure did not just harangue me for a couple of months, it shifted my assurance to speak professionally for a year or more. There was something about that experience of completely failing that shook me to my heart, shattering what confidence I had.
I know I will have plenty of friends here in raising my anxieties and concerns regarding public speaking. Getting up to speak to individuals has been one of the most harrowing experiences of my life, but it is not anymore. I used to wonder, ‘Why do I do this?’
There are times in all our lives when we face the humiliation of failure in a context that bloats intrigue to the point that the experience traumatises us. And injury changes us. It challenges our thinking to such an extent that we’ll do almost anything not to have a repeat of such a painful encounter.
In certain ways, trauma creates fears in us, logically for our defense, but illogically in a way that we become hypersensitive to anything even remotely re-traumatising. At the outer extremes injury completely interrupts our lives, and what was can never truly be again. Unless we can somehow miraculously reinvent ourselves.
Among the greatest lessons I have learned from events that elicit trauma is to drop my perfectionism. Also, to understand that certain events would be the destiny of us all (not excusing traumas of abuse). Along with the value of honesty, which attends to the top two issues.
Some events that involve trauma can actually be good for us, in that we are given the chance to learn how to deal. Again, however, this is not about trauma we are afflicted with from chronic or acute abuse, though I do believe there’s hope for a semblance of recovery. (Remember the name of this article; it is not about the unrelenting injury experienced by victims of abuse, particularly child abuse.)
Life is as much about learning how to survive injury because it is about learning how to thrive successfully.
One thing trauma has taught me is how fast I allow fear to control me in certain situations. Awareness is a miracle; to become consciously attentive to that which ought to not frighten me but does. The invitation then is to adhere to the fear with curiosity.
Fear copes well with the safety of gentle curiosity.
If fascination remains gently interested it can help fear to trust in hope again.

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