A few weeks ago a met a woman at a party and we bonded over being celiac. Actually, her husband spotted our gluten free beer and asked if he could have one for his wife (good man). I happily shared my beer with her and said that I probably shouldn’t have another because I had to run the next day. She asked if I was training for a race. I replied that I had a half marathon in September. She shared that she had once trained for a half and didn’t run it because it was a horrible downpour the day of the race and she hates the rain. I was flabbergasted. How could she possibly train all that time, build up the excitement and not do it? I asked pretty much that and her response was brilliant.
“That’s my failure story.”
Her failure story. She was onto something with that one. Accepting your failure is a pretty powerful experience. It takes tremendous amount of courage to admit defeat. We have all faced situations in our lives, big or small, that have been huge disasters. Personal failures of epic design. To outsiders it might not seem like a big deal that we ran a personal worst, or didn’t get a promotion (or worse-got fired), or got dumped. But to us, we each have that one story of failing greatly that sticks with us and helps shape who we are as people.
Allow me to share my failure story. We have lived in our current house for two years. Prior to that a year and a half before we tried to sell our other house. We had been looking for houses casually and found one we really liked. We put in a low ball offer that wasn’t accepted. We forgot about it, until a few months later when the realtor contacted us and said there had been no other interest and if we put our offer in again it would be accepted. So we did, but we still had to sell our house. We scrambled to get as much work done on the house as we could, fresh paint, declutter, move things into storage, new decor to “stage the house”. No easy feat with two young kids. We listed our house (far lower than we bought it for) and it sat, and sat, and sat with no reasonable offers. The deadline for our Hubbard was coming and so we made the decision to pull out of the contract and take our house off the market. We were devastated. I have never felt like a bigger loser in all my life. To add more salt to the wounds, our next door neighbors and good friends put their house on the market about a week later using our realtor. Their house sold in 3 days, over asking price and they bought the house we couldn’t buy. (And yes, to answer the question everyone asks when I tell this story: we are still friends.)
This experience was so excruciating for both of us. We couldn’t understand how you could work so hard for something and have it not work out in the end. And sure, it’s just a house, but for us I think it symbolized so much more. Our success as adults and parents. If we couldn’t provide a better home for our family what did that say about us? If we bought an unsellable house over what it was worth (granted in the 2007 market everything was overpriced) were we big fat idiots and the joke was on us?
In the end it all worked out. We spent another year putting more money into the house to make it livable for us and hopefully sellable for someone else. We put the house back on the market and it sold in 2 or 3 weeks. Ironically, the house we were going to buy ended up having some major unforeseen problems that caused a lot of headache for our friends. Not that we wanted them to have any issues, but we were thankful we didn’t have to deal with it. The experience of utter failure made us stronger and helped us see that our worth as people wasn’t tied to where we lived or what our house was worth.
I guess my point in sharing this is that you too have a failure story. Each of us does. Yours is of course different than mine but that doesn’t make it any less significant for your life. The next time you look back on something that failed for you instead of dwelling on the bad outcomes, think about how the experience has made you a better person and if there were any gains from it. Even if it’s just learning that you really don’t like running in the rain.