Failure Is Fine (But Let's Talk About Context)

It's only been 16 days, and I'm back with another post! ... I swear I'm working on it. Despite my goals, including keeping up with this blog, life continued to happen and September became probably the busiest month I've had in a very long time. Between working my real job, working my many part-time jobs (mostly writing + research), trying to blog and ramp up a social media presence for myself (YouTube anyone?), visiting my fam and boyfriend, and whatever other random life things you can think of, this month has been a lot and I basically alternate between *I'm so excited about life and the work I'm doing I can't sit still* and *I could pass out standing up on the subway* many times a day. No complaints, though. Things are going well. 

 Reasons why life is awesome, pt 1

Reasons why life is awesome, pt 1

 Reasons life is awesome, pt 2 (not pictured: Leah, Delaney, & Mugsy)

Reasons life is awesome, pt 2 (not pictured: Leah, Delaney, & Mugsy)


Before I launch into my latest thoughts on life, let's do an update about my goals for the month of September:

Complete Whole30? 9/10

Yep, I'm giving myself a solid 9/10 for this one. Let me explain. Here's what I HAVE been doing:

  • sticking mostly to the rules I set myself
  • teaching myself to be more thoughtful about what I put in my body
  • finding out that some things (dairy, alcohol) really have been messing with my stomach all along, and it's probably best that I keep those to a minimum as indulgences here and there but keep them out of my regular dit 
  • avoiding eating just because I feel like it or I'm stressed
  • sticking to this diet plan at least 90% of the time
  • getting a little bit better at cooking 

And here's what I HAVE NOT been doing:

  • being obsessive to a point where this becomes annoying to myself or others 
  • sticking exactly to this diet every second of my life (I have totally eaten protein bars with added sugar, some stove-popped popcorn, milk chocolate, and probably something else that I've forgotten and I AM NOT SORRY)
  • binge-eating food
  • being hungry or not satisfied with what I'm eating 
  • imposing my diet or choices on others 

The bottom line: the whole point of diet challenges like this is to learn how to treat your body with respect and kindness and figure out what works for you in a long term, sustainable way. It is NOT to follow every aspect of an arbitrary diet plan to a T until you cry because all the food you have in your apartment is non-compliant and you don't want to go out and buy more at that very moment. If you don't agree, that's fine. But if there's one thing I've learned from working in health & fitness journalism (and being personally obsessed with fitness & nutrition) it's this: health is not a one size fits all solution. It's totally different for everyone, and it would be way easier if you could just say "okay, this is the way to be #healthy so I'm going to do it," but it's not. You have to try things out for yourself and it's a lifelong learning process. So all in all, Whole30 has been what I wanted it to be, meaning a chance for me to explore what works for me and what doesn't, and to change my general eating habits just a little bit.

Note: Yes I am going to keep going until the end of the month, mostly. But maybe with like an 80-85% followthrough rather than 90 or 100% because I have a life and I live in NYC and I'm going to make the most of fucking awesome food sometimes.

Go back to therapy? 10/10!!

Yes! This one I can report that I have 100% accomplished my goal, so that's cool. And it's maybe okay that I waited this long to update my progress on these, since I just saw a new therapist for the first time yesterday (but I'm going to continue going, obviously, so it's all good). I really do not think the Internet needs a full rundown on my therapy sessions (gotta draw the line somewhere), but it's definitely a good thing for me. And for everyone! I have zero tolerance for therapy stigma because you gotta take care of yourselves mentally and emotionally. You can be totally okay and go to therapy because why stop at okay when you could feel even better and understand yourself a little bit more? 

Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day. 2/10 :( 

Lol. This was a total failure, and a great example of how I overreach and stretch myself too thin a lot of the time. I work a ton. (Ask my roommates. The typical McKenzie thing to do at home is hide in my bed with my computer while working on freelance work.) And with all that work, and being a normal human who gets tired and grumpy, comes wanting to SLEEP when I finally turn in a story at 10pm and have to get up at 6am for work the next day. So yeah, instead of pulling myself together for five minutes most nights to mentally focus (because for me, meditation is still hard AF), I lay in my bed like a beached whale, unable to move, and talk to my boyfriend on the phone or listen to podcasts until I fall asleep. I feel kinda bad about it, because I'd estimate that I've only actually been getting the meditation in once or twice a week, but also it was inevitable that I slipped up somewhere. And I'm glad it was on my own self-inflicted goals than, say, a project that I was getting paid to complete. Failure is fine, it's fine, guys.

On the bright side: with inspiration from one of my coworkers, who is super into guided meditation which is great for me, and as always, my mom, I'm going to keep going on this! For now, I'm just going to do it when I can and when I remember, and in the future, maybe I'll set it as a full goal again. But in the meantime, I'm at least getting somewhere by doing it sometimes rather than never! 


Conclusions (on goals & life):

Writing a few sentences about this small, tiny failure got me thinking about something a lot bigger. Why am I so obsessed with setting goals for myself in the first place? Partially, it is out of a genuine determination and drive to be a better, smarter, kinder, more thoughtful human. But another part of it that isn't super fun to talk about is that it feels good. I thrive on successes, so the more goals I set, the more chances for that feeling of succeeding. I never thought about it this way in the moment, when setting a goal, but it's totally true. I've trained myself to value praise (both internally and from others) over all else and to fear failing like crazy. I've basically trained myself like you train your dog to sit or roll over, except I don't even get a tasty treat when I do it.

So this all got me thinking. Failure has a weird place in our culture. It's simultaneously glamorized and demonized, especially in the world of business, entrepreneurship, and fitness (all places where I expend a lot of my mental energy). So let's break this down a little.

On a personal level:

Failure IS FINE.

Really, it is. Failure is fine, if you're really, really trying. Failure is fine if it's the alternative to expecting yourself to be superhuman. Failure is fine if you acknowledge it, get back up, and try again. Failure is not fine if you let it define your life or you as a person. Failure is not fine if it's your expectation. Failure is not fine if you accept it at face value. 

If you're afraid of failing at something (even something small, like not reaching a small goal you set yourself), you're never going to accomplish anything. And if you're afraid of talking about failing, then you're probably not totally confident in your abilities.

For me, a person who's always seen failure not only as an incomprehensible thing I was afraid to even think about or define, but as an outcome that would immediately overshadow everything I've ever accomplished, accepting and coming to terms with failure (in a larger sense) is something that I really needed to learn to do. I have failed more in the past year (I've touched on this before). But this year has also been the biggest for me in terms of growth, self-acceptance, and self-love. I don't think that's any sort of coincidence because I finally faced the thing that paralyzed me (failing) and learned to deal with it. I'm not going to pretend that failing feels good, because it doesn't. It's never exactly fun, but it's also not paralyzing anymore. For someone who's dealt with anxiety and perfectionism for a very long time, it's also kind of a relief, as long as you bounce back from it. It's a small reminder that you're human, that the world isn't always fun or fair, that life doesn't get you down, but that in fact, you yourself do, and it's up to you to pull yourself back up, too. 

On a larger level:

And this got me thinking a bit more. What kind of person am I, how self-centered and unaware, that I get down on myself for failing to accomplish small, arbitrary goals that no one but I even care about? Part of it makes sense. My obsessions with not failing come from a deep insecurity (financially, mostly, and I'm now terrified of failing if it means not being able to provide for myself and those I love) and an innate need to succeed and be praised. That's fine, we all have our problems, and those were built into me by my environment as a kid. But if we're going to talk about failure, I'm not going to trivialize it. My personal failures are inconsequential to literally everyone who isn't me and the only reason I even talk about it is because, maybe, someone else can relate and be a little bit happier and more at peace with their own life.

But the way we culturally talk about failure is something a bit different. 

There are a lot of bullshit stories out there about how failure is great. It's kind of in fashion, at this moment, to talk about your past failures. But only in the context that you, now a successful but not pretentious and relatable person, are willing to reflect on your past failures that inevitably end in successes. After all, no one would be reading or caring about your failings if you hadn't succeeded in the end. I get that. The way we think about failure in a larger sense is weird and disingenuous. It's all well and good for some fancy startup founder or businessman (or, say, JK Rowling, who I love but this is still true for) to stand up on a TED stage and talk about failure. But the context is what's framing their failure as something that is okay. It's bookending a string of failures with the shining successes that define their careers.

So let's not get ahead of ourselves. In any way I fail, at least for my small, personal goals, I will be okay. If I don't get the job I want, I will still be able to pay my rent (as long as I have some sort of job at all and work a lot). If I don't meditate daily, I may be more stressed and anxious, but I will still be a functional person. If I do something stupid and reckless (spoiler: I probably won't because I'm boring and safe that way), I don't have a criminal record, I'm a small, white woman (sad but true that this matters), and I will probably be able to bounce back without ruining my life. At least at the moment, I'm in a position with a tiny bit of a cushion that makes this possible. I'm privileged, in this sense (even though I worked my ass off to get here).

If a black man fails to get home at the normal time and is out on the streets at night, in the wrong place, his tiny failure might result in his death (this is more of our society failing him than him failing himself, but you see my point, just a simple, tiny coincidence. If you need some more context for how awful things COULD be, go read this and this and this). If someone living in true poverty fails to make it to work exactly on time, they could lose their job and not have food on the table. If someone who wasn't given the education or support system that I was as a kid fails to graduate high school, they may never get into college or get a job. If a single mother (like mine) had failed to keep it together in difficult circumstances, we all could have lost a house or our futures.

(I'm trying to keep this blog critical and make myself hyper-aware of all the ways in which I'm privileged. It's a really good exercise, really. Not only do you feel more empathetic and compassionate towards others, but you also don't get down on yourself for stupid shit and instead recognize all the ways you're lucky. Well, most of the time.)

So this is all to say that failure is fine - if you're in a position to still be okay, if you have a safety net. I wish I didn't have to write this entire section, that everyone in the world had the chance to try something hard, fail, and get back up again because someone else had their back. But they don't. And I did. So if we're going to talk about failure, let's keep it in context. Really, this is all the more reason not to (as young, educated, fairly privileged people) let our small failures define ourselves because in so many ways, we've got a hell of a lot going for us. That was a long digression, but I'm constantly infuriated by the way people (mostly white people) dismiss the ways in which they are lucky to talk about the ways in which they are not. I am NOT belittling anyone's problems, even my own, because the ways in which we struggle are all different. But I have to recognize that when I look at myself in the mirror and see the ways in which I've failed, other people would look at where I am and think about nothing than how lucky I am to be, living, surviving. 

So, here's to failing some more this year, but only as a result of trying REALLY FREAKIN HARD to accomplish some shit, too. And being aware, if I feel the inclination to get down on myself, of all the ways my life is awesome.