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From My Failures, Am I Redefined?

I’m starting a med shift today, so I may be more introspective than normal :man_shrugging:

I’ve made a lot of progress on myself over the last year. I’ve gone from thinking that nothing I do will ever be good enough to believing that I am enough just as I am. I’ve gone from thinking my past will hold me back to thinking that my future is wide open. I’ve gone from thinking God was just present in general terms to beginning a personal relationship with Him.

I’ve had a lot of little realizations too, and they’ve been occuring more and more frequently lately. The exes I resented so much are (presumably) not the same people they were when we dated, nor am I the same person I was then; and we each played a role in the other’s growth, even if it hurt. Refraining from constantly saying “I’m sorry” is hard, but removing that conversational crutch makes both my sympathies and my apologies more thoughtful and genuine.

For the past year, I’ve struggled with a shitty attitude. I’ve blamed it on sleep, meds, work, a plateauing career, home life, COVID fatigue, politics on and on. Since I’ve started actively trying to take pleasure in the little things though, my whole life has started looking brighter and feeling more level. It’s really exciting, but also scary. Why though? I think my identity may be about to change. I feel like I’m hanging onto what’s familiar because change is scary. It’s like quitting smoking–the benefits are immediate and immense, but when you’re comfortable being a smoker, it’s hard to let that go and easier to stay with it.

So what am I specifically clinging so hard to? I had a frying-pan-to-the-head moment today while I was talking about that with a friend. For the last 10 years, I have formed an identity around working hard and fighting to overcome my failures. I’ve worked and fought and gotten further ahead than I ever imagined. Now, I think I’ve gotten to the point I fought so hard to reach, and I’m at an existential crossroads because there’s nothing left to fight against. Have I made it through to the other side? What’s here? Everything feels so floaty. There’s no direction, no friction.

In 2008, I lost everything I believed to be true about myself. Who was I without effortless success? When the pieces landed, I believed I was a failure and a waste of potential. I was someone who squandered his entitlements, and so surrendered the privilege of deserving anything and vowed to work hard for everything. Now, who am I if I’m not fighting to overcome my failures? I don’t know. Whoever I am, it’s more positive than the last new identity I took on; but not knowing is scary, and I’m trying to cling to the last of my friction when it’s just not there anymore.

I think I have some more shifting to do. Instead of not doing things I think I may fail at, maybe it’s time to try new things I can get better at. Instead of pushing to get ahead, maybe I can walk forward, and maybe even stop and enjoy where I am. Instead of working hard for my stability, maybe I deserve a little grace from time to time. Instead of trying to make sure my future is fully assured, maybe I can try having a little hope. I’m uncomfortable typing these up, they’re counterintuitive at this point, but isn’t that part of growth? I’ve been uncomfortable for over 10 years now. I don’t know. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I want to take it a day at a time, manage my expectations, and see who I can become instead of what I can piece together.

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There is a scriptural reference about being born again, and truly we are, every single day, but usually don’t notice it. Other rebirths are more spectacular. In 2008, you were born into the light of a new reality and awareness. It took you time to regain your footing, much like a child again learning to walk.

Since that time, you have crossed new thresholds of realization, along with changes in self perception. Feeling floaty at times as these changes occur, isn’t unusual.

Squandering entitlements is almost an essential rite of passage for young people. Those who manage to retain their entitlements, for example those born into families with old money, have their security based on external circumstances. If something happens with those circumstances that causes their fortune to disappear, they can be devastated and ill-equipped to recover.

Your case is different. You have rebuilt your life. It’s taken you a while, and you have incorporated struggle as part of your identity. Now, much of the struggle is gone, and with it, your identity as a struggling person is also, to a significant extent, gone.

Yet you are not gone. Different parts of your identity, such as wisdom and confidence are patiently waiting to be acknowledged.

Even positive change can be scary. Fear of change is programmed into our DNA, as it helped us to stay alive during our cave dwelling days.

Not every day has to involve struggle. It’s true, sometimes we can coast for a bit. Embrace such times. No doubt, you will encounter other challenges in the future, but now you will be able to face them with greater confidence.

While humans experience a natural impulse to fear change, it’s impossible for us to remain the same. We learn and we grow. We get frustrated and we transcend. Every failure that you’ve experienced in the past has been an essential step forward, to help you become the person you are now.

I see that is a very good thing.

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I was mulling over all this over the weekend, and I think I’m ready to start adding to my routine with things like hobbies, regular workouts, and more church-related things. Again, it’s scary and outside my comfort zone, but I think maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

It’s occured to me that I’ve never gone all-in on anything. I hold a piece of myself back for safety’s sake. I think part of me is afraid of failure, but a bigger part of me is afraid of success, and I think that’s always been the case. In high school I did really well in school with minimal effort and was getting full ride offers from all over the place. I didn’t know why things were going so well, and I was terrified. My academic career had taken on a life of its own, and I felt like I wasn’t in control. I figured that eventually the ride would be over, things would be normal, and I could settle into the stress-free routine of the somewhat-above-average student I believed I was, but it didn’t happen. The only way my reservations really manifested was in wrestling, where I started matches with no expectation of winning, and usually just gave up if things started not going my way. Losing was something I could control; going all in meant risking losses not on my terms.

Fear of success is what led me to accept an offer from an average university, and I knew it even then. I thought of it more in terms of wanting easy academics at a place where no one would expect great things from me. My high school teachers told us that if we worked hard then, we were destined to do well in college. Having paid my dues, I hedged my bets by setting the bar so low for myself that I could just step over it. When the joyride was finally over, when my fear of success finally led to failure, there was no “average” to settle back into. I failed big. Part of my self-hatred was knowing that I was perfectly capable of doing the work, but lacked the courage. That’s what made me the biggest failure of all. That’s how I squandered everything that had been handed to me. That’s how I came to assume the identity of a waste of potential. Wow it’s too early in the morning to be having these realizations as I write them.

My therapists have been telling me for years to get a hobby. I’ve never wanted to. Why? A hobby sounds like a lot of work, time, and money. It’s something I may not be any good at, even if that’s not the point. I think, though, that I’m afraid of taking a risk on something that I might be good at. By not taking on hobbies, I’m maintaining control of my success and preventing failure.

Struggling to overcome my failures through my career has been something I can control. Now that there’s nothing left to push against, now that I don’t have to struggle, I can take on new things. There’s still the voice telling me not to do it, to remain in control of what I have, but now I’m wondering why not? I did a 12-step program last year, and I didn’t even go all in on that. I did a thoroughly mediocre job of getting through it, secure in the knowledge that I hadn’t risked everything by going all in so that I didn’t lose myself. What did I get from that? Tools and awareness to realize I could be so much more, while retaining control over my identity.

I’m trying to stay methodical and make sure that I’m not building myself up too quickly. Before I had my meds under control, I had mild bipolar tendencies of building my self-image up almost frantically, followed by crashing back into the “reality” of my worthlessness. However, just for today, I think I can be more than I have allowed myself to be, if I just try without holding back. Now I just need to figure out how to let go.

 There is no failsafe,
 it's what keeps me hanging onto what you are to me
 You're what keeps me hanging on.
 I'm not giving up, I'm giving in
 So let's begin again.
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It sounds that you are, indeed, at a turning point in your life. Some call it the destruction of the Ego. I personally like the concept behind “The Dark Night of The Soul”. The realization that wandering has an end, and sometimes it leads us to a dead end made of emptiness and boredom that we need to learn to compose with. For so long, you’ve been running after your own identity through your constant efforts for overcoming your own failures and, somehow, being in movement became who you are. But once you arrive where you wanted to be for so long, what’s left to feed your soul? And who are you once you are slowing down in a time and space that could feel like a giant desert sometimes?

A huge strength that you have right now is in the way you are redefining yourself. You could have chosen to focus on a different goal to aim for, another path that would have been made of efforts and sweat. But in this time of unknown, this scary time where you are floating, you also encounter new sides of yourself. They were probably always there, but sometimes we need the right space and the right time to flourish. Like flowers, we can’t grow if the right circumstances are not reunited. You could have ignored it. You could have persisted in your old ways, but you don’t. That is how you redefine yourself. And who knows, maybe in the future you’ll learn to move forward and enjoy where you are, each day that goes on?

It’s both scary and exciting to learn to know ourselves better. I personally believe it’s one of the most intense journeys we are made to live, as human beings. With your story, your own journey, also your capacity to think and feel in a unique way, you hold the potential for something different. And the way you describe it indicates that there could be less judgment and more grace for yourself at the rendezvous. Interesting perspective that, as a friend, I wish for you with all my heart.

On a more practical side, it’s really awesome to see you talking about your desire to integrate different type of routines in your life, even if it’s scary at first. You’re not just looking after the person you could be. You also want to start with who you are. Right now you have a good knowledge of who you are, of your limits, even if learning to know yourself is a constant journey. You know how to approach those new things already, and which pace would be a good fit for you. That is yet another strength that you own.

Fear of success is something I deeply relate too. I believe it goes along with a fear of failure. I don’t know how to enjoy success and responsibilities are extremely scary to me. I’d rather do any kind of “crappy” job and be underpaid, but at least without any high responsibility, instead of being hired for my real qualifications and degrees. Crazy how much we can sabotage ourselves and miss our true-self just because of a fear of being, right? I’m glad you are not following that path anymore. Well, even if those realizations are fresh for you, there’s a potential there to guide you to a new direction in your life.

Sometimes, as a wanderer in your own life and present, it will help you to keep your heart grounded in the love that is available for you, especially when you’ll lose sight of where you’re going. The “you” that this world knew yesterday, the “you” it knows today, and the “you” that is yet to be disclosed tomorrow, is loved in a pure way, at the image of the love you’re willing to share with others. You can find confidence in that love as not being different through time and adversity, but on the contrary it becomes stronger and brighter the closer you are to your own spirit.

May this turning point in your life be both an inspiring end and a exciting beginning for your heart. Your efforts were not in vain. Especially if, as a result, it has led you to this very specific moment and letting go some parts of yourself that, maybe, don’t have a reason to be anymore. What you leave will be replaced by something new, and will not always be totally separated from who you were. You keep writing your story, your keep sharing your voice, you never cease to reinvent yourself. There’s something magic and beautiful in being aware of it. Embrace the beauty. Embrace the awkwardness. All of it, as it will serve you and inspire you.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”

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Many years ago, I read a book by the author Og Mandino. Actually, I think I read three books by him. In one of his books, he assumed the persona of God, although I don’t think he really considered himself godlike. It was just his way of sharing what he thought of as an inspired message. One of his exhortation’s, that’s followed me since the 70s is “do all things with love.”

“All things with love, huh?” My initial response was that doing my best all the time seemed like entirely too much work. That’s what I thought doing all things with love meant. I wasn’t sure I wanted to clean toilets with love, or clean cat barf out of the carpet with love, or a host of other unpleasant things. I asserted my right to apply only mediocre effort towards the things of my choosing.

Then it occurred to me, that when doing things with love, self-love is part of the equation, and not every task calls for maximum effort. I concluded that I could express love through my actions by investing the appropriate amount of effort, which in many cases means not being a perfectionist, and choosing wisely the actions that deserve the greatest focus.

Like the two of you, I used to fear, and maybe I still do fear changes, either in the direction of success or failure. That’s because with either thing, our self perception is threatened, and the future becomes more difficult to anticipate. I think for most people, positive or negative change can shake confidence. It’s not unlike stage fright to step into a world in which our relationship to it has changed.

The thought of doing things with love incubated in my mind for quite a while, and like a toddler, when given a screwdriver, will try to use it as an instrument on any number of things, I experimented on how to apply such a principal. I discovered that even tedious jobs were more tolerable as I found ways to apply the concept. It came to me, that regardless of the task, when performing it, I was expressing my integrity, and with it, my willingness to share love through my work.

Love and fear do not mix well. It’s like oil and water. I came to realize that with practice, love can displace fear. So, when the risk of success or failure hang in the balance, a decision based on how best to love oneself and others, greatly reduces related anxiety, regardless of the outcome.

It’s interesting how easy it is to say “I’m sick,” or “I’m scared,” or I’m this or that, as though those physical or emotional states are part of who we are, yet saying something like “I am love,” “I am integrity,” or “I am authentic,” or any number of positive self affirmations, rarely occur to us. Yet all those things are true! We need to accept the positive aspects of our nature at least as readily as we do the negative.

What if, as we face a decision, our self talk includes, “I am making this choice because to the best of my knowledge, it aligns with my integrity and desire to share love through my efforts.” You might be surprised by the extent to which fear or anxiety is reduced by that state of mind.

I have found that when I take on a tedious task, with the mindset that the quality of my work expresses how much I care about myself and those around me, the associated drudgery tends to disappear.

Failure and success are both steps forward in our personal growth. You will find many rewards as you journey through life.

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