On Failure & Gratitude
I posited this notion yesterday via Instagram caption under a largely unrelated image: would the quality of your life increase if you instantly got what you wanted every time you wanted it? The response that I got to it was refreshing and empowering, a resounding “no,” accompanied by personal anecdotes about gratitude and personal growth.
It caused me to think back on my early 20’s and the veritable shitshow that would have resulted if I got everything that I wanted. I think back to my time as a wedding photographer. I thought that was my destiny: then I realized that I didn’t actually enjoy it and the bubble popped anyway. Then, I worked as a journalist and wanted to be a television reporter so badly. Years in that industry left me disillusioned, and being told time and time again that I didn’t have “the look” took a toll on me, but I ultimately realized that I would have been miserable chasing that career. Then, I had my startup. “Surely, this must be it,” I thought to myself as I portioned out rice and black beans for my one-meal-a-day because I was actually broke—not making any money off of my career but telling myself that it’ll be worth it in the end when I’m a billionaire. (No such luck.) Now, here I am: an agency marketing manager in the ecommerce space with an average salary, writing a blog with below-average readership, a strict 9:30PM bedtime, and an authoritarian-like adherence to a regimen of pills and supplements to regulate my mental health. In my early 20’s, I would have been horrified to find out that my life turned out to be so, dare I say, normal, but honestly, I don’t think I would trade it for the world.
While 21-year-old E.M. had wildly aspirational dreams for 27-year-old E.M. (including but not limited to: a Range Rover, a kid with another on the way, a career as a political pundit, and stylish Lower Eastside digs) I’m content right now. My life is stable. I relish in my current Volkswagen wagon, rescue dog and cat, agency marketing, Fishtown lifestyle. Why? Because I had to grow. I had to experience the pressure and the heartbreak of not getting what I worked hard to obtain so I could understand and appreciate what I really needed. Stability. Comfort. 1,200 square feet and a backyard with a big ole Maple tree. A paycheck. PTO to go on grand adventures. Health insurance.
There should be a word used to describe the feeling of looking back after a fair amount of distance between the “failure” and the denouement into a new beginning and subsequent realization that you are truly better off. Some melange of joy, humility, and relief. It’s a powerful thing to be able to admit that what you wanted in a moment was not, perhaps, the best thing for you.
Not to get too “old man yells at cloud,” but we live in a society that glorifies youth. Now, of course there’s nothing wrong with that, however, those of us who do not find our way until later should not be made to feel that it took too long. I get panicked when I think of the big 3-0 and how the even realistic goals I set seem unattainable. Why does 30 seem like this sheer, unwelcoming cliff that we’re all careening towards, being rendered useless after we reach it and plummet to the spiky valley of thorns and proverbial flames below, our career goals and aspirations rendered absolutely useless as our metabolisms begin to slow and our child-bearing years near their end? Or at least, that’s what we’re told—in not so many words, of course.
The fact is this: you are where you are and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Isn’t that an amazing sentiment? Just embrace it. There are some things you can do to make yourself better but unless you’re constantly the best version of yourself (inevitably failing, falling, getting up, learning, growing, repeating ad nauseam) and consistently looking for ways to improve and move forward, you’ll never get to where you want to be. Contentment and success is a moving target and it’s up to you to define it for yourself: and to not be afraid to re-define as you discover new versions of yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror right now and repeat some affirmations: I am where I need to be. I will do one small thing to make myself better today. I’m proud of myself and where I am now.
It might sound silly but everything you need is already within you—tapping into it is just a skill that, like most others, needs to be learned. I believe in you.