Sore Loser: On Failure and other Fears
One story my family loves to tell about me is the Monopoly Incident. When I was little, I was playing Monopoly with my older sister, and it was becoming clear that I was about to lose. Instead of accepting defeat, I had an absolute meltdown (at way too old an age to have a meltdown). I flipped over the Monopoly board, small colored rectangles of fake money flying into the air. My hatred of failure, along with my flair for the overdramatic has made me impressively ungracious at losing for most of my life.
Disliking failure is not a new or novel experience. I can’t think of anyone I know who enjoys failing at something. If I’m honest, I don’t hate failure as much as I'm afraid of it. I know that I have a tendency to hang too much of my self-worth on my ability to produce, to be the person who gets it done, to be seen as a "success", whatever that means.
At the moment, I find myself in transition, professionally and personally, and I spend as much time not doing as I do working. It’s been an interesting lesson in understanding myself. If the thing in which I invested so much of my identity and energy no longer serves me, what is left when that falls away? What am I doing with my life? Being a failure, my inner critic would say. Being a human, I am answering back. I am slowly trying to disentangle myself, to figure out what is ego, what’s my desire to make a difference, what’s my desire to be seen. If my twenties were spent building up my identity in life and work, the work of my thirties is to figure out what parts of that identity are real, and what’s unnecessary baggage.
I'm not gonna lie; it hasn't been very fun so far. The more threads I pull on the stories I tell about myself, the more unpleasant truths wriggle free from an inner life that likes things to be neat and uncomplicated. One of the uncomfortable blessings of carving space in my life--physically and emotionally--is that there is more room. More room for contemplation. More room to deal with the heartache, loss, anger, and insecurity. More room to face what's always been there, but was stuck inside the frenetic pace at which I had set my life. Busyness is a very convenient way to protect one's self from all those pesky feelings squirming around inside.
And yet, I highly recommend finding space for uncomfortable blessings. It's hard work, but how else can we deepen our capacity for love, grace, and trust unless we open up those locked up rooms, and start to clean out the clutter inside? I'm learning (slowly, imperfectly) that the most important and rewarding work is also the hardest.
What is the work of the next decade of your life? What needs more room? Where are your uncomfortable blessings, and what might you find if you stay there awhile?