When I was younger, I tried a lot of stuff. My oh-so-checkered orthopedic records are a log of how most of my attempts went. Here’s a brief (incomplete) list:

I ran track and cross-country, and sprained both ankles several times. Each. I ice and roller skated, breaking my tail bone and both wrists in 3 different episodes. I skied, and blew my left knee my first time off the “bunny slopes.” I blew my right knee falling off my heels while dancing! I even broke my wrist (again) tripping over a cat while cleaning house. More recently, I broke my hand tripping over a curb. (There are some good stories behind some of these, but they’re too long . . .)

From all of this, you would be justified to believe I’m either accident prone, or a klutz! My orthopedic surgeon thinks so and my extended family members tend to agree. I look at it this way: I have spent my life learning what I could do by learning what I could not do. Unfortunately, what I could not do physically turned into often painful lessons in not doing that again. By the way, I do many things well, including singing, crafts, sewing, quilting, calligraphy, cooking, drawing, painting and writing, though you will have to judge the writing part. 😉

I failed at a lot of things. But am I a failure? No, of course not! That’s because failing is what I did. Being a failure is rooted in who I am, the inner picture I have of myself. Failure is what I have, not what I am.

It’s the same for all of us. Just because we try at something and we don’t succeed (or succeed immediately) doesn’t make us a failure. It means we tried. And, unless circumstances demand otherwise (as in the case of me skiing, for example), to try again and learn from what we did wrong. As Henry Ford said,

Failure is an opportunity to begin again more successfully.

Portrait of Henry Ford (ca. 1919)

Too often, though, we make the mistake of allowing the times when we failed to define us, or our future attempts. We look at the behavior and wrongly translate it into character, personal attribute and/or destiny, instead of seeing it for what it is, an event. We take moments in time and turn them into our identity, melding them into our past, present and worst of all, our future.

I did this for years. Told I did not measure up in many ways, I transformed these criticisms (which were often harsh) into a poor reputation of myself. Failing at things I tried to do fed my low self-image, reinforcing it and deepening the damage to my psyche. It became a vicious cycle. It was only through the slow process of love and constant affirmation from people who showed me over and over how much they loved me that I was freed from this horrible trap.

Now, I understand and am able to relate to something I heard recently from speaker and blogger Bill Lewis,

Your past failures do not predict your future!1

I am learning again the words we were taught as children,

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”

These sound trite, but truth is often found in trite sayings. I am learning my past is my past, and just that. My future is an unwritten page, on which I decide the direction the story goes. My past need have no influence on it. The book of life only goes forward, not backward. Yours is just the same.

If you, dear reader, struggle with failure as I did, allow my words to take root in your heart and mind. Find people who love and affirm you for who you are, who care about you and want the best for you. Take hope if I can learn how to fail without being a failure, so can you.

Now, get out there and fail at something! Because if you’re not failing, you’re not trying . . . (But that’s a talk for another day, and another post!)


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