I was watching an epsiode of The Dog Whisperer this morning. A fellow in a wheelchair was having trouble with his dog who, though normally extremely sweet and compliant, had attacked and killed another dog in the household, his sister’s rather yappy miniature poodle who had admittedly harassed the larger dog a great deal. It seems there were a few very small signs the owner had missed: the curl of a tail, a certain over-attentiveness in the dog whenever exciting stimuli was present. He acknowledged that he had made some mistakes, and set about trying to change them.

Something hit me as I watched that. And by “hit me,” I mean the sensation you might experience if your car was struck by a semi.

All my life I have lived with either a fear of failure or an obsession over my past or current failings. When in the throes of depression, I have often said that I am a mistake, a waste of breath, that my whole being is a failure. Owing perhaps to my father’s extremely high standards for me, or to my Evangelical upbringing, where a sin, any sin, cut you off utterly from the glory of God (hence the necessity of salvation), failure was always tantamount to a death knell for me. It meant I was fundamentally Unacceptable, that the relationship was irretrievably broken.

I have worked a great deal on that notion over the years, and I have made some progress, though not enough. I have told myself repeatedly that there is no such thing as failure. There is only the trial-and-error of life. You have discovered one more thing that doesn’t work the way you had hoped, so you now have an opportunity to try a different path, a different methodology. Try something radically different, or tweak the old approach just a bit and try again. It’s like a recipe that wasn’t successful; what ingredients need to be changed, what techniques need to be refined, to create a more pleasing result? It’s life as America’s Test Kitchen.

On today’s show, the fellow is in a wheelchair due to some crippling disease, yet he is able to train and control pitbulls. He saw that something he had done inadvertently, something in the way he had trained (or failed to train) his dog had cost his sister’s dog its life, and even though everyone acknowledged it was really the other dog’s fault for instigating it, he wanted to learn how to keep anything like it from ever happening again. He had made a mistake, and he owned it, but despite the great sadness it had brought to the family, he neither got defensive nor became consumed with guilt. “The path I took ended badly,” he said. “Now I need to learn what I need to do differently.”

It was precisely the right balance.

My life is not a failure. I have made choices that have brought me here. I couldn’t have gotten here any other way, through any other choices. Here is a good place, mostly, but now I want to go there. I see where my previous beliefs and actions have taken me; now I need to make new beliefs, take different actions, in order to get me to someplace else.

See? Television isn’t a total waste!

Categories: Body and Mind, Depression, Food and Diet | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Failure

  1. Fear of Failure seem to be speaking to me as well this week, I’ve tracked the critic to my eight year old self…wonderful insights, amazing what we learn from Caesar and his whisperings. I am all for a new road to travel.

  2. Victoria

    The honesty and vulnerability that is present in your writings, not just today’s blog, but always, take my breath away. I think one of the reasons that I’ve always connected with you on such a deep level is because I, too, have always felt flawed in some basic, from birth, way. It doesn’t surprise me, for instance, that no one has ever wanted to marry me. I’ve always felt different and unlovable, so when friends get really, really attached to me, it surprises me and makes me worry that it will go away. It comes from circumstances that were unfortunate. My mother was always low energy (took naps after class in high school) and depressed. She got pregnant on her wedding night (with me), and again when I was 4 months old. Rich was a difficult, sick baby, and I had to fend for myself more than I should have had to. A depressed mother doesn’t show enjoyment in her children. While everything physical was perfect — every meal was on the table, clothes were washed and ironed, shots on time, shoes polished — she even made homemade finger paints and homemade modeling clay — the joy was not there. So even today I don’t worry about being loved, I worry about being liked enough for people to want to continue loving me.

    But I must tell you that I feel like I can show you myself. And that’s profound.

  3. “Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?” Henry James.

    Mistakes are a fact of life. One does what one does with the information one has and the choices one sees available. But what you do with those mistakes is also a choice. What do you do with them?

    I have lived, thus far, feeling as you do – a mistake. Not that I have made mistakes but that I have been one. Often am one. What do I do with that?

    Works to show myself I am wrong. I might never succeed. But I shall leave goodness and joy in my wake.

    I dare say it is what you have been leaving in yours. Certainly my life has been the better for knowing you. And the you I know is a the you that has made those mistakes.

    Thank you for having made those mistakes. My life is better for them.

    I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act. Do not mistake motion for action. – Buddha

  4. Wisdom is to be seized wherever it appears—even on TV

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