Friday, October 05, 2007

More Thoughts On Failure

So listen. My therapist is still out of town. She's gone elk hunting, somewhere out west. Yes! I was thinking the exact same thing: this may be yet another clue that we're not in Berkeley any more, Toto.

Anyway, the thing is, I'm still feeling the need to talk some more about my pervasive sense of failure. And she's not here, but y'all are, so hahaha: guess who's going to have to sit and listen while I rattle on.

Seriously, do you mind? You don't have to say anything. Just sit there and nod occasionally, mutter "Mmmm?," pass the kleenex, and try to refrain from yawning or looking at your watch. Ok?

Ok. So here's where we were before Annie Oakley grabbed her damn gun and headed off to Colorado or Wyoming or whatever the hell mountainous state has a surplus of rabid elk stampeding around terrorizing its innocent populace.

We were concluding that failure itself is pretty much irrelevant. It doesn't really matter if it was my fault that I failed, or even if I actually failed, because "failure" isn't real. It's nothing more than a made-up concept, a subjective judgment call, and anyway it can only exist in the past, which means it wouldn't exist any more even if it had been real. It's over and done. So forget about failure, it's not important in and of itself. And the fact is, rational or not, I do feel like a failure, so there's no point in arguing about whether or not I should feel guilty, ashamed, hopeless, whatever. I just do.

What really matters is how I cope with that feeling, what I do when I feel it, and what steps I take to move beyond it. And that's what I want to talk about today. (Brief aside: You know who totally cracks me up? Charles Kroger. Do y'all think you could maybe cross your loafers the way he does, or bug your eyes out, or something?)

Ahem. So. One common way that people react to feelings of failure is to try to pump themselves up by putting somebody else down. They attempt to reinflate their own egos by denigrating others, perhaps members of a different race, or religion, or nationality. Or maybe they pour their energy into booing a rival sports team, or railing against an opposing political party. Perhaps they ridicule female drivers, or fat people, or gay people, or kids with tattoos. They kick the dog, yell at the sales clerk, sneer at people they deem less intelligent or talented than themselves. They become addicted to the momentary high of feeling superior to somebody else.

I think I'd like to try to avoid this particular coping mechanism. I don't think I'd like myself very much if I went around acting like that all the time. Besides, it doesn't really work. So I have to pay attention and catch myself if I ever start slipping into it.

Another common response to feeling like a failure is to turn the anger and aggression inward and attack the self. Women in our society are particularly socialized to resort to this tactic, though men are not immune to it. When people use this coping mechanism they hate themselves and get depressed. They may injure themselves, or develop an eating disorder, or channel their energies into "fixing" what they perceive to be their most visible flaws. They go on diets, get a new hairdo, buy news clothes, shop around for cosmetic surgery.

Even if I believed this technique was efficacious, I couldn't afford it. Anyway, I don't want to go there either. So once again, I have to pay attention and catch myself if I ever start slipping into it. For instance, whenever I pick up those pruning shears and start in on the ol' radical home haircut. (Another not so brief aside--hey, I'm PAYING you exactly what you're worth to listen to this crap, people: I'm feeling especially touchy about my hair this week, since Rumer Willis just got fugged for copying my exact look. But you know what? I had a gift certificate for a massage at a chichi upscale day spa, and when I cashed it in last Tuesday the receptionist raved about my damn hair. "Crappy yellow wig" indeed.) (Ok, wait. Did I just do something there?)

So those are ways I don't want to react. What are some healthy ways of coping with feelings of failure? Well, let's see...

Oh but never mind, ding ding ding! As usual, just when we get to the good part, our time seems to be up.

Thank you all very much for listening so patiently. If you don't mind, we'll take up where we left off again next week. Because even though my therapist is coming back from her wild western vacation (oh god, what if she has Bullwinkle hanging on her damn wall or something?), tomorrow is opening day of squirrel hunting season around here (run, Rocky, run!), so all schools and businesses will be closed for the entire week. Perhaps next week we can also touch a bit on why I never seem to feel like I fit in.

Meanwhile, I leave you with a couple of last night's drawings. A little bit better, but still not quite where I want to be. Onward!

2 minute gesture drawings

20 minute pose

Where I'd really like to be. (painting by Guillermo Meza)


Blogger RP said...

In my times of failure, I try to practice compassion. I try to open my eyes to the people around me, and see that they're in the same pain I am. It does help a bit, and I hope it makes me less of a jerk when I think I'm the smartest and cutest thing around.

Oh, and I have to remember the stuff about the dream of perfection being the enemy of excellence all the time. It's one of the things I learned in IMPACT, but I forget it if I don't remind myself. Perfection - hell, effortless perfection - was my goal for far too long.

10:34 AM  
Blogger cyn said...

I like what Rachel said about compassion. I'm a fan of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which sounds woo-woo, but isn't. One of the basic assumptions is that trying to avoid and eliminate negative thoughts is part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This site has a nice description of it:


PS: I like the quotes from Art & Fear

11:29 AM  
Blogger Josephine said...

I'm sitting here, almost in tears, so grateful to you for writing about this. I thought I was the only one to experience this.

A lifetime of chronic, undiagnosed illness robbed me of years of productivity and most of my potential. During my (partial) recovery, I faced my own failure and it was crushing. The only way I got through it was by getting up every morning and trying to find happiness (relief) wherever I could find it. Distraction, I guess you'd call it.

It's so disappointing to be my age (almost 46) and to look back at such stellar underachievement. I can't even take credit for it by blaming my own laziness, LOL!

It's hard to accept that, with all of the people I've known who are living such full lives (including being well enough to hold down a job), I'm forced to feel "gratitude" for having enough energy to do the dishes, wash some clothes and maybe clean the apartment a bit... that's on a super-excellent-high-energy day, mind you.

My dream? The one talent I possess, that I always hoped would lift me out of my insignificance? It hurts to think about it... but maybe I haven't quite given up on it yet. I guess I still have hope.

Recently you wrote that you wanted to be really good at something (the post was about your art). I couldn't comment because I was still "anonymous".

Today I had to sign up just so I could say thank you and to tell you that you are a brilliant writer.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Josephine said...


My impression is that you are intelligent, highly creative, analytical and intuitive, energetic (when not sick) and extroverted.

Boredom and loneliness would be your worst enemies.

I feel that you are doing some emotional/mental work that is necessary to moving on to the next phase of your life. You have so much going for you and I believe you won't let fear of further disappointment hold you back.

You are a talented fine artist, as well, but I didn't comment on that because I can't draw a straight line, so why should you take my word for it, LOL?

I bet there are other talented writers and artists that you could meet up with.

Another thought: have you contacted any publishers re. a book version of your blog? (Sorry if you've mentioned this before; I've read all your entries but my memory sucks.)

3:01 PM  
Blogger Vidyala said...

I can appreciate what you're saying - whether or not you should feel that way, the fact is that you DO. The best thing I've read about failure, success, and approach is a book called "Mindset" by Carol Dweck. here is a link to a review of it, it talks about some of the ideas in the book. It has helped me to grow immeasurably. I hate being that self-help recommending person in the comments, but I definitely thought about this when I was reading about your experience with the drawing classes. You ARE succeeding, you're practicing and learning and getting better. Some days back when I was doing my BFA, I'd have eight hours of crap drawings. Everything I touched turned to... well. You can fill in the expressive blank. But after awhile plugging away, sometimes things would get better. I liked the portraits you posted the other day, and I love the energy of these drawings too. When I read what you write here, I am just in awe of what a strong and beautiful person you are. Reading you has changed me, and it might be small but it seems like a success from this side!

3:11 PM  
Blogger Lene Andersen said...

First, I'd like to thank you for the posts about perfection. Just what I needed, exactly when I needed it.

Second - a couple of years ago, when I became interested in Buddhism, compassion, etc. and started practicing compassion, catching myself when I thought judgemental thoughts about others, it led to the discoverey that I excel at being really mean to myself. I'd tell myself the nastiest things and when I couldn't find something in the present to berate myself about, I'd dig up something from 30 years ago. So I started trying to change, to catch myself when I do that and practice forgiveness - towards otehrs AND myself. It's a work in progress and sometimes I slide back, but yeah... forgiveness. For being human, not perfect. And reminding myself that as long as I'm making new mistakes, at least I'm learning. That it's called practice for a reason. And to move only forward (there's a great book called Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith - sci-fi, but the message has stuck with me for over a decade).

Third, ELK HUNTING? How... erm... therapeutic?

3:13 PM  
Blogger K. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Valmosa said...

Rumer got fugged because she doesn't have your classic bone structure.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hmmmm...and what do you think about that? *passes tissues* Hmmmm...and why? Another tissue/ *sure*! ;)

I love your hair ~ don't let the fuggers get you down, lady! You rock!

Oops...look at the time! Gotta run! :D

{{{hugs}}} (very non-infringing-on-your-personal-space ones, since this is the Interweb, and all...)


5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"try to refrain from yawning or looking at your watch"

Actually, what I'm trying to refrain from doing is giving you advice. It's your process, and I'm enjoying reading it, partly I must admit because it's helping me along with my own.

Personally, I'm good with failure, but I'm afraid of pain. So my issues of fear and sadness are not yours, but damn if it doesn't seem like a lot of the same work learning to deal with it anyway!

ha ha ha ha ha

Also, your excerpts are helping me both in the studio and in some art classes I let my true love talk me into taking (first ones in 25 years), not to mention stuff to think about while waiting for trains and veterinarians. So thanks for that, too.

P. S. -- You don't really seem like a dog-kicker to me.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Yankee T said...

I totally heart Liz. A failure, you are not.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Yankee T said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:14 PM  
Blogger A.Smith said...

“When you fall, pick up something.” ~Oswald Avery

"When you fail, take credit for it"

5:13 AM  
Blogger Trasi said...

Saraarts makes total sense to me. I don't want to offer advice, because clearly you are extremely intelligent and can figure out anything that I might tell you all on your own. Plus, you read. That makes you open to the ideas of people who maybe do have some helpful suggestions. I agree though, failure is entirely a mindset, and perception is reality, to you. It doesn't matter what the lot of us think about you, it matters how you process yourself and life in general. I think all of life is just a big stream of alternating coping and enjoying. You seem to have a great grip on how to do both.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Patrizia said...

Rumer is kinda like Paris Hilton. It's just plain fun to fug her.

I have to resist the impulse to project on to you because I know we're not all that much alike. I mean, true, we're both feisty and independent. But in different ways.

However One way in which I do think we're alike is that we both had rather difficult childhoods which we compensated for by becoming the World's Best Mother. And it works so long as mothering is a hands-on process, but once the chicks are grown, one is left once again with all those feelings of inadequacy fostered by that difficult childhood.

I'm not sure what one does about those feelings. Right now I'm feeling so inadequate that I'm absolutely convinced my personal repulsiveness is the single most important factor in the Monterey tourism economy -- I'm so horrible that I'm radiating negative energy that is actually keeping tourists away! They want to come to Monterey but there's this negative force field -- emenating from -- ahem! -- moi -- that's keeping them from getting into their cars!

So at the same time that I am singularly inadequate and repulsive, I am also amazingly powerful!

It's an odd paradox.

Anywaay, I try to cope with it by telling myself it's brain chemistry like ibuprofen or any of those drugs I took so much of 30 years ago. And that sooner or later, it will pass.

And generally sooner rather than later, it does.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

Gorgeous drawings. Yes I like the Meza of course, but I like yours.

I've done the attack the self thing a lot, and I feel like Josephine (although I've got a career) because I missed years of life due to depression. But the thing is - one is not a failure when one considers all that one has in fact done.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

Also - something odd which helps me is having found this blog whose author signs all the posts, "In Struggle, Ridwan." They're not depressed posts, but they are often frustrated or angry ones, yet he is optimistic. And he admits he's "In Struggle" - he means it both personally and politically. So I get to think OK, someone's "in struggle," I can be "in struggle" too and it's all right.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Rent Party said...

"One of the basic assumptions is that trying to avoid and eliminate negative thoughts is part of the problem rather than part of the solution."

Yes. And people don't know this but it is key. Trying to eliminate them takes too much energy. One can just watch them pass, like ephemera ... or decide to see what one can learn from them ... or something, I don't know, I am not an expert BUT I like the sound of this ACT quite a lot, and I say this as a person very suspicious of much therapy. Thanks Cynthia.

1:38 AM  
Blogger Keiko said...

Everyone is not leaving advice so may I make a recommendation? ;-)
Done the therapy thing. What really helped me is the concept that feelings and emotions are just kind of a mental churning and you have the choice to entertain them or NOT. Analyzing the crap out of them gives them importance they don't deserve and keeps you from watching where you're going. While therapist is off shooting things, look into the Sedona method (free DVD, a bit annoying at first, but free!) and/or EFT (emotional freedom technique; I thought this was totally crackers, but the newsletters are actually helpful or google Carol Look, I like her style; and free manual)

11:50 AM  
Blogger Keiko said...

i (heart) you
You are way cuter
Fugger Willis, Mirkwood called, the Elves would like their black eyebrows back

11:52 AM  
Blogger neighbor_nancy said...

I love your blog! It gives me a sense of struggle comraderie, even though I am just reading your words. Given my current state of physical isolation (just moved to new location in the "boonies" of NC), the intellectual stimulation is most welcome.

I'd like to thank Cynthia for her link to the ACT information. I ordered some additional reading information and look forward to learning more.

7:15 PM  
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