For When You Feel Like a Failure

I distinctly remember sitting in counseling one day, frustrated with myself. I’d only been a solo parent for a few years and was struggling to juggle the responsibilities that come with parenting, keeping home functional and people fed, and giving myself and kids the time and space to process everything we’d just experienced. In the span of two years, I’d had two kids and lost both my dad and my husband to cancer. As I sat on the therapist’s couch, hugging a pillow, tears streaming down my face, I admitted that I felt like I was tripping and falling my way through life. I was so discouraged that all of my organization and planning was not producing the straight-forward, predictable, and manageable life I wanted. Everything felt so hard and I wasn’t sure I was doing any of it well. I wasn’t sure I was even doing any of it marginally acceptably. 
Not by my own standards, at least.
He chuckled to himself and let me kept talking.
“I JUST WANT TO BE AWESOME AT EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME,” I finally said in exasperation, “but I guess I can’t be awesome at everything all the time.”
I don’t remember exactly, but I think he laughed out loud.
“Oh, so you’re a schmuck just like the rest of us?”

Somewhere along the way, I came to believe that having weaknesses and imperfections was the absolute worst part of being human. Limitations felt like failures. And being human means having limitations. Did being human mean I was destined to be a failure?
Would I ever expect anyone else to be perfect? Nope.
Would I expect a baby to learn how to walk without ever stumbling? *laughs*
And yet…

After a lifetime of beating myself up, I decided I’m not doing it anymore. The thing is, having limitations isn’t a failure. Not being able to be awesome at everything all the time isn’t one either. And neither is being human.
*sigh*
What I didn’t realize was that acknowledging that limitations aren’t failures wasn’t even the real problem.

I imagine I’m a road and my weaknesses and limitations are potholes and frost heaves along the way; the totally normal and predictable evidence of nature and seasons and weather over time. And instead of repaving or patching the road, I’m throwing out some traffic cones or cordoning off those parts of myself.
CAUTION.
KEEP AWAY.
DO NOT ENTER.
I was acknowledging that it was okay to not be awesome at everything all the time, but I wasn’t being honest about the parts of myself that weren’t awesome.

I kept insisting I could figure out how to stay on top of laundry or get the dishes done before the sink AND countertop were full. But I couldn’t admit that my brain was just not going thrive on routines and habits. Once I admitted I have ADHD and those things were always going to be a challenge, I could look at my reflection and tell her she was doing just fine and she wasn’t a horrible human or mom for not being able to keep house in the way I thought I was supposed to. 

Even still, any time I drop a ball, arrive late, forget about something or someone, or something turns out differently than I expected, I experience an incredible amount of shame and guilt for not doing better. It’s as if I feel like I’m a block of cheese and that every limitation is a bit of mold that needs scooping out, leaving me feeling like I’ve been cheated out of some of myself. But really I’m a block of Swiss cheese; I came with the holes – they’re features not bugs.

Yea, I just made a cheese metaphor and I’m stinking proud of it. Like an aged provolone.
Get it? Stinky.

If I’m honest, I was afraid that being open about my limitations would cost me relationships. I thought people would think less of me. If people realized I was riddled with mold, they’d throw me away. As I’ve risked showing people my weaknesses, I’ve been surprisingly comforted by people wanting to come nearer, to be closer to me. This vulnerability has showed me that my limitations push me to be more creative – when I can’t do something (or, let’s be honest, can’t do it the way I want to), I’m forced to imagine new ways of approaching both new and old challenges. 

So if my limitations aren’t signs of failure or something that drives people away and if my weaknesses challenge and inspire my creativity, why have I spent so much time resenting my humanity? 

Two books that have helped me learn to be gentle with myself:
Try Softer by Aundi Kolber
Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy

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1 Comments

  1. Darcie on August 12, 2022 at 12:27 pm

    Love this post Becky. Thanks

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