"If You Could Not Fail" is Not an Option

June 16, 2016

I wrote this article more than a year ago for an excellent online journal that is now on hiatus.  Nevertheless, the message is still one I need to remember, maybe you do too.  

More times than I can count I have heard someone trying to motivate people to be great, pose the following question:  "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"
Each time I've pondered my response I have tried desperately to fill the answer with "totally awesome wedding photographer and creative entrepreneur."  I will try to visualize myself with a worldwide brand and a new found love for kale and the six-pack abs that obviously follow my unfettered success.  But try as I might, that is not the answer I can truly give.  Because that question, the question of never failing is ultimately a selfish question.   The idea of guaranteed success rarely brings out the piety in people, myself included.

What would I do if I knew I could not fail?  Probably invest in the stock market or play the lottery.  I would audition to be the next Elphaba in the Broadway production of Wicked.  I would call up Christian Louboutin and ask him for a custom collection of shoes.   All the while reminding myself that it is I who would not fail, most likely giving way to distrust and dissatisfaction with the trial and error filled  reality of those around me.

I wish I could say my faith or my family or my small town upbringing would keep me free from the selfishness that unhindered greatness brings, but if I'm honest, I know it wouldn't.

I think the better question is: "What are you passionate enough about to stay the course despite the guarantee you will fail and fail and fail and fail?"  I know, it's a longer question, but it's a necessary one.  We don't live in a world where simple questions always yield spectacularly clairvoyant answers, the simple things that render our hearts and minds as one cohesive unit with a common vision and simultaneous 5-step plan of action.   We live in a world where simple questions like "Who am I?", and "Where am I going?" often leave us stymied, unable to shake the million questions that follow them so we stay put, neither growing nor dying, but stagnant and shame-filled.

So when the question is no longer dependent on my ability to be super-human the answers come faster.  I am passionate enough about my family, about my marriage, about being a parent, my friends, my photos and my writing.

The more and more I went over that list, and I did for about seven days, I couldn't help but feel something was missing.  And sitting with my husband a few nights ago, after the world had completely overwhelmed me, the answer came after a full-blown panic attack.  After nearly ten minutes of feeling like my heart was going to explode and that I'd never breathe normally again amidst the whirlwind of irrational thoughts and fears I realized I needed to be that passionate about one more thing: me.

I was raised to always put myself last, the courageous and beautifully strong women in my life didn't grow up with a language for self-care.  They were selfless and sacrificial far into their own detriment and I was under the impression that if I wasn't frazzled inside and fabulous outside I wasn't doing it right.  But, in my years since leaving my hometown I have met many wise people who didn't simply tell me I didn't need to "do it all."  They modeled what it looked like to say no, to value themselves and gave me permission to do the same.
Granted, having a panic attack a few nights ago doesn't speak well for my ability to hone these skills but it did remind me that having passion about myself, who I am and who I am becoming is not selfish but necessary.  Without it, I cannot give zeal into the things that surround me without settling for facades of success and half-present relationships.

I don't have five perfect steps to excellent self-care, I don't believe there is a formula for everyone but I know this:  Before you or I can pour our hearts into creating and cultivating meaningful art, business or relationships we must first have a steady and renewing source of fervor for ourselves.  It's not selfish, it's not conceited, it doesn't detract from our focus on others, it is a centering sort of passion.  The kind of rootedness that allows a tree to sway wildly and beautifully in the wind and remain strong.

So what are you passionate enough about to fail time and again and still get up each time?  I hope your first answer is yourself.

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