Life After a Big Fail

Cherub #2 looks a lot like Serena Williams. I suspect it will be a viable Halloween costume  for her for years to come. For that and a whole bunch of other reasons (the primary one being that Serena’s tennis is awesome), both Cherubs cheer for her now that they’ve discovered that I’m  obsessed with the four Grand Slam events and that we watch A LOT of tennis when they’re on.

Last month, as we watched the U.S. Open, they didn’t entirely understand the magnitude of Serena’s quest to win all four majors in a single season. They just knew that she almost always finds a way to win, even when things look really unlikely, and so during each of her matches, they’re going to hear at least one infomercial from me about the cool qualities of resilience and not giving up.  (They take these in stride and mostly manage not to roll their eyes).

They were surprised, along with the rest of us, when Serena unexpectedly lost her bid for glory in a match where the odds were something like 280/1 in her favor.

I thought they’d be devastated, but they weren’t. They were sad for her for approximately 15 seconds. Then they asked, “So when’s the next big tournament?”  “January,” I replied. “Oh good,” they said. “She’ll have a chance to rest before she gets back to winning.”

I. LOVED. THIS.  Infomercials PAYING OFF!!!

(Okay, truthfully, I can’t take credit for this; most of their resilience came factory-installed.)

Now, here’s my dilemma: I know that there’s a great lesson here about the importance of how we manage ourselves in the weeks and months BETWEEN epic loss and getting back to winning. I’m writing this to try and figure out what that is.

Yesterday, Serena announced that she’s pulling out of the rest of the season. I totally get this.  I’m 100% for taking a chunk of time to regroup after a big life disappointment.  I don’t even think you need to have some grand plan for your comeback while you’re mourning. Because you’re mourning, which by definition means you’re a terrible planner. But it’s helpful to assume that at some point, you will come back; that a day will come when you’ll be ready to face the world again, even if right now you can’t imagine how you’ll get there.

I’ve lived this again and again, and it surprises me every time.

– It happened when I failed at my first marriage. Even though I insisted outwardly that I’d never get married again, I knew in my heart that I wanted a second chance.

– It happened with my writing, when I abandoned the manuscript I’d lovingly worked on for years because I was pretty sure that following Jesus and being a New Age author were mutually exclusive options.  I still hoped I’d publish a book someday.

– It happened with rescuing kids from foster care. We gave it everything we had with Princess Peach, to no avail. But eventually (after months of mourning and healing) we circled back when we felt like God nudged us. There’s a set of siblings out there, He said. Go love them. So we did.

The successes don’t negate the pain of the failures. But noting this pattern – one only visible over a long time – has helped keep me in the present instead of the past. It’s given me a reason to be curious about the future (even if it’s only a sarcastic, cynical sort of curiosity in which I’m certain that my primary role on the planet is as an example to others of how badly things can go. At least I can succeed at that! I say. Note: you have to be really careful during these seasons if you have an Irish sense of humor).

It’s horrible to fail. We try to downplay this as a culture, tossing around sayings like “Fail fast, recover fast, learn fast, fail again fast…” (I’m mangling that motto, but it’s something like that), as if our failures are just part of the process, no big deal. Which is true if you’re a robot, or a computer, or deeply emotionally deficient. But if you’re not a machine or a sociopath, you’re going to need time to recover. As a former mentor of mine used to say, “The worst feeling in the world isn’t saying, ‘Wow, I blew it.’ It’s saying ‘Wow, I blew it AGAIN.'”

I guess this is what I want to tell the Cherubs: I haven’t orchestrated any of my second chances. Neither have you, nor will Serena.  There’s a limit to how much we control what comes our way in life. But the one thing we can control is to refuse to let our failure define what we’ll try in the future. We may have long nights of wailing and railing at God for letting so much heartbreak happen. But even as we wail and rail, we can hope for some new chance to try. And when we try again, sometimes we’ll fail. Again. But we’ll fail differently. And each new failure will, God willing, be bolstered by an assortment of wonderful wins. Over a lifetime, I think it balances out.

2 thoughts on “Life After a Big Fail

  1. I love your sentence- there’s a set of siblings out there, go love them. It’s clear, doable, and open for discovery. I think part of what is so hard about failure is that we are convinced we have to have it all planned perfectly to avoid the next failure and this stops us from trying again. I’m loving your posts about all the trying you’re doing in this season of life, really trying is the only thing we’re asked to do. Your cherubs’ assumption that Serena will try again is on point. Here’s to more courage!

  2. I have always loved that Jesus said “Take courage!” When we don’t have any He gives it to us. Awesome. So excited for your family as you parent your precious cherubs!! All the best blessings to you and yours, Trish!!

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