On learning the art of failure

I am a succeeder.  I don’t even know if that is a word, but y’all, I get things done.  Well, I use to.  In fact, it was an obsession.  I had to be the one folks thought of first when there was something to be done.  I would never say no and I would do it faster than anyone thought it could be done.  I have a friend who use to say that all she had to do was think of something that needed completing and before she knew it, it was already done.  That is just not my reality anymore.

Long ago, a good friend told me that I was one of those people put on earth for the sole purpose of being a help to others, but if I wasn’t careful, it would destroy me.  I am starting to see what they meant; however, it wasn’t the helping that was in danger of doing me in.  I had to learn to succeed in a new endeavor — failing.  Turns out that there is an art to failing that one must learn and it is not an easy lesson. For the first part of this year, I had exactly 25 hours left in my week after all of my responsibilities to eat, sleep, bathe, and do any anything that wasn’t on the “list”.  Then in April, my nephew – a four-month-old, 12 pound, bundle of sunshine came to rest in my arms… and on my chest, my lap, my hip, and sometimes, my back.  Suddenly those 25 hours rolled into negative numbers.  At one point, the last week of school, I was typing my final papers and having to do a lot of backspacing because I was falling asleep and sleep typing whatever my dreaming brain conjured up – trust me, a tree swing does not belong anywhere in a paragraph about the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Don’t get me wrong, I had help.  I have wonderful friends who stepped in, whenever I asked, to take over the position of chief baby holder.  The problem is, asking for help isn’t in my nature.  I was convinced I could do it all and do it all just as well as I had always done.  The last week of the semester I was finishing multiple papers, working, taking care of farm animals, attending church meetings, making sure people got paid on time — oh, and caring for a small, demanding human.  I was doing this on less than three non-consecutive hours of sleep a day.  I was so tired I found myself dozing off anytime I got still, like for example while sitting on a parking lot bench trying to get my readings done for an upcoming class.  Still, for some reason, my obviously diseased brain kept agreeing to do things like write grants and drive to and from Memphis twice a week so my nephew could see his mom.

I didn’t sense the end coming.  Probably because I was too delirious to notice.  Things stopped getting done, or at least done in any resemblance of a timely manner.  I was failing.  As I mentioned earlier, this was a new experience.  I was accustom to being on top of everything, on being the one no one had to stay on to finish things.  Learning to fail is kind of like learning to ride a bike.  The first few times you do it, it’s ugly and you are a danger to yourself and others.  Group by group, I was letting everyone around me down.  Well, almost everyone – little sunshine, sugar pants was getting plenty of my time and attention.  In this process, I realized that I had everything all wrong.  Yes, I was still failing, but more spectacularly, I was failing at failing.  I was failing at failing because I didn’t call for a lifeguard when I realized that I was going to drown.  To be honest, I don’t think I knew I was caught in the current.  I was convinced that I’d get a handle on things any day, that I could redeem myself.  You can’t ever really though.  Once you become the person that is unreliable, you pretty much just stay there.  At some point, I finally learned that it doesn’t really matter.  (I don’t mean being reliable, that matters.)  What I mean is that I don’t have to be everyone’s person.  I can fail, but I can fail in a way where no one gets hurt.  I can fail to say yes.  I can fail to assist.  It’s much more graceful to say “no” than crash into a wall and scratch up your brand new helmet.


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