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So, there you are…reeling at the news, a look of utter shock undeniably written all over your face. That exciting opportunity for which you had trouble falling asleep the night before is now the shattered hope that will keep you up tonight!

The work you put into the dream – the planning, the time, the networking, the energy – all seems now like a complete waste of time. And what hurts the most? The whole thing would have worked out if not for the interference of other people! Why couldn’t they catch the dream? Why couldn’t they get the vision? Why couldn’t they see in me what I know I have to give?

People will tell you, “Well, it just wasn’t meant to be?” Is that supposed to be comforting? I mean really…if it wasn’t meant to be, then why did I kill myself thinking it was? Why couldn’t somebody have seen that earlier, told me, and saved me a whole lot of trouble? If it wasn’t meant to be, then what is meant to be? Is there any point, any good that I can take away from this defeat?

My response? No doubt…there is!

Now, I’m not going to go into a bunch of platitudes about “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” or “this will build character in your life.” I know these are true, but they usually don’t help much in the face of such a tremendous disappointment. Instead, I want you to focus on the original passion that led you into this seemingly lost endeavor in the first place. I can almost guarantee you that it wasn’t about money, power for power’s sake, popularity, or pure pleasure. It was always about people. You had something that you wanted to give, something to contribute, a need to know and be known, a need to accept and be accepted, a hope to empower and be empowered. You haven’t lost faith in the dream…you’ve lost faith in people!!

So what do you do? How do you keep this disappointment from completely tainting your love, faith, and hope in others and making you a bitter, cynical person?

Let me suggest that you start by envisioning three people in your mind. Keep these people with you through the trial. Give them a face, a name, a legacy, and a future with you. They are as follows:

  1. The person you are striving for: This is the person that more than likely you started your mission to reach. I asked a factory worker installing seatbelts in automobiles who he was striving for. He said, “That little girl, just like my daughter, whose life will be saved because of me.” A teacher recently told me it was “that kid who really can succeed but everyone else in his life keeps telling him that he cannot!” Who are you striving for? He or she will be the one who gets you back up on your feet when you face a roadblock on the way to your dream. If you do not have someone like this in mind, create them. Be as detailed as possible. Give them a name. Envision their face before you when you are feeling discouraged. No venture in life will succeed if you are pursuing it for purely selfish gain. Your work will be so much more satisfying, even in times of failure, if you are striving for another.
  2. The person you are striving with: Somewhere in this world, there is someone who has gone through or is going through exactly what you are. They need you! They need your story! If you hole-up in isolation and coddle your hurt, keep it to yourself and refuse to share it, you will miss out on the connections you could have made with people who want to give and receive strength for the journey. Your heart will overflow when you meet them: a kindred spirit you might never have known otherwise. I interviewed a woman who said, “I thought I was all alone, but a whole world opened up to me when I opened up to it. It was like walking through a fog of loneliness for so long and then suddenly stumbling upon a campfire, burning bright and hot, surrounded by people celebrating a journey not yet finished but sure to end well. They were ready to walk along with me. My heart glowed for the first time!”
  3. The person you are striving toward:This isn’t as simple as a WWJD bracelet with which you snap your wrist each time a problem arises. It is, however, visualizing that one individual that you want to be and asking yourself how your pain can make you more like him or her. I’ve been reading a kids version of Pilgrim’s Progress to my children at night before bed, and so for me right now, I’ve been visualizing the character, Faithful. He’s the one who entered the town of Vanity Fair and was dragged into the courts by the town’s people. Despite all the tempting and laughing and brutality he experienced for being different, he stood strong in his mission, even to death. That’s who I want to be. I know I’m not perfect in that regard. I know I have a long way to go with lots of setbacks, but I keep that story in my mind and it helps. What about you? Who do you want to become? Perhaps he or she is a real person or a fictional character that embodies all the qualities you long for. Tell yourself that this setback is an opportunity to become more like them and determine to be that same person others aspire to be. It will make all the difference.

Questions: How do you keep from getting cynical about life and love when you’ve faced a hurt or setback? Are their ways that you have found helpful to keep you motivated? If you had someone in mind to strive for, with, and toward, who would they be?

 

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Have you ever heard the song by REM, “Everybody Hurts”? Well, it’s true! We all go through difficult seasons in our lives, either because of the things others do to us or because of the things we do to ourselves. The people in our lives play a vital role in whether or not we have the strength to get back up on our feet and keep moving through life’s journey. I was considering the types of people that wait for us on the way down. Who are they and how should we respond to them. Here’s my list:

The Vulture: This is the person who is openly antagonistic. They have been waiting for this moment as long as they have known you and they have no qualms about letting you and others know their pleasure in your pain. This is the boss that can’t wait to fire you, the frenemy who posts the embarrassing picture on their Facebook account, the sibling who uses you to get in good with mom and dad, the church member who wants you off the pulpit, the journalist who smears your public image. The list could go on and on. Nine times out of ten, the best option with the vulture is to keep your head high, ignore them, and distance yourself from any further interactions. Let your actions be louder than your words, be the better person, and trust that they will learn their lesson from someone else someday. An old proverb says, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine!!”

The Vampire: The vampire is definitely an antagonist, but in a more subtle way. They pretend to be your friend, invite you to open up to them in the midst of your struggle, and then take advantage of you in your weakness. They are smooth and seductive. Think traveling elixir salesman or corner prostitute! And they may not be selling anything material. They might simply want you to buy into their philosophy about life, feed their psychological need for power, or use you to assuage their own hurts. Your suffering is only a means to accomplishing their own purposes in life. They will suck your blood and keep coming back for more if you let them. The way to protect yourself against a vampire is to hold your cards close to the chest. You might be suffering intensely and they always seem to be right there ready to help, but smile and make them believe you’re doing just fine without them. Tell the salesman politely you’re not interested at this time and then hang up the phone! Don’t wait for the rest of the sales pitch.

The Voyeur: The voyeur doesn’t necessarily have a hidden agenda, but they will milk you for all the juicy details of your struggle. After a while, you get the sense that they really don’t care about you. They just love a good story. And trust me, someone who loves a good story is usually a magnificent story teller. The voyeur loves being in the know and spreading news. They feel better wallowing in other people’s suffering. Here is one way to test whether or not someone in your life is a voyeur: tell them something exciting and positive that has happened in your life and see if they take as much interest. You will know very quickly who your true friends are by who is able to celebrate with you, not just mourn with you.

The Freak: This person does not have a malicious motive. They simply “can’t handle the truth!” (Said in an aggressive, airy, Jack Nicholson voice). Usually, the freak is someone very close to you who suffers when you do. They love you desperately, but freak out when you’re in pain. They are empathetic to a fault. You wish they’d take your shoes off after one lap around the track, let alone a mile. With these people, you may have to share burdens gradually over time. Let the issue sink in so that they have time to process it and come to terms with it. In doing so, you will create less damage in the long term.

The Fixer: The fixer is the opposite of the freak. Lots of solutions. Very little empathy. I knew someone who did informal counseling who said, “Look, I’ll meet with you for one session. You do what I say? Great! You don’t? I’ve got better things to do with my time!” Now, to be sure. Individuals like this might have a lot of helpful wisdom to pass on, but you need tough skin and the ability to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They have a cookie cutter solution to every problem. Some advice might be worth chewing on and some of it, well, in the words of the comedian, Jim Gaffigan, treat it like a Hot Pocket: “Open package and place directly in toilet!!”

The Father:  The sage. The guru. The sensei. An older individual who is not in competition with you, has a deep yearning to mentor and genuinely wants to be a listening ear and an advisor in your life. Draw from them deeply, but realize that they may not be entirely able to relate to your circumstances. Every generation is faced with nuances in the suffering and pain they face. Culture, technology, styles, and relationships change over time, so look for a wise man that is willing to remain teachable and empowers you to tell your story. Remember as people age they naturally become fixers (minus the attitude), in part because they have had a lot of experiences we have not. The good ones remain humble in spite of all their knowledge. Hold onto them like a precious jewel (or your i-phone these days!!)

The Friend:  This person doesn’t have all the answers, but they can relate to your struggle. They care about you, want to see you succeed, and will continue to walk with you every step of the way. There is loyalty here. A history. A brotherhood or sisterhood. You may have disagreements, but if someone butts into your inner circle, they will fall on their sword for you. Cherish these relationships. Be that kind of person to someone else. If you have one or two of these people in your life, you can weather any storm.

Question: What kinds of people wait for you when you fall? What kind of person are you when others fall?

 

When you work out consistently at the same gym for a while, you begin to notice people. For me, there is one guy in particular that has, for better or for worse, left a lasting impression on my mind. Without fail, at 7 am every morning, he comes strutting in, all 275 lbs of him, pointing and shouting at people across the gym, “Go hard or go home, baby!!!” I’ve never been able to figure out if he actually knows the people he is shouting at, but if he’s trying to meet people, he should really take time to read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If he’s ever directed the challenge to me personally, I could not tell you because when I see him coming, I avert my eyes, turn up the volume on my i-pod and start praying, “Dear God, please don’t let him eat me!”

On one occasion (once my panic attack subsided), I considered his statement: “Go hard or go home.” How many of us have applied this statement to our lives? Here are some examples I thought of:

  1. Dieting – “Oh well, I gave in and had that pizza. I might as well eat the cannoli too.”
  2. Exercise – “I’m so tired this morning. I think I’ll go tomorrow when I am feeling a little more rested.”
  3. Work – “I’m sorry, honey, I am not going to make it home for dinner tonight. This marketing presentation has to be perfect or else I’m going to bomb it tomorrow.”
  4. Parenting – “I am such a failure as a parent. All the other mom’s are working a full time job while homeschooling their seven children and training for the Hawaii Iron-man.”
  5. Ministry – “I’m just one voice. What I say or do doesn’t really matter. Anyway, the minister is the one who has been called to this. He can handle it.”

I could continue the list ad infinitum, but the real point is that anyone who tries to ascribe to the “go hard or go home” mindset, usually ends up going home, crawling into bed, and watching reruns of their favorite 80’s television show. Why? Because no one can go hard all the time and those that do end up burning out. “Go hard or go home” is an example of what professional therapists call “all-or-nothing” thinking.  Some more examples:

  1. “If I can’t be perfect, then I must be a failure.”
  2. “If I can’t be at every meeting, then I’m not going to volunteer at all.”
  3. “If this one girl does not find me attractive, then I must be ugly.”
  4. “If I don’t have 5 million followers on twitter, then what’s the point of tweeting?”

This mindset affects our actions and it affects our view of ourselves. For example, let’s say that you would like to start working out, but you don’t because you’re not in shape. (Consider the logic of that statement first, by the way.) Well, your goal might simply be to get to the gym every day. How intensely you work out doesn’t matter at this point. You just need to get there! Accomplish that step, and then look at hopping on the treadmill the next time. If you are socially isolating yourself because you fear being rejected, consider this: if you reach out to 100 people and 80% of them reject you, that still leaves you 20 people who want to be your friend. Instead of looking at the 80% of rejections, consider that you just went from 0 to 20!

How about your view of yourself? If you are not the star athlete, the top sales associate, the supermom or dad, the greatest [fill in the blank], that does not mean you are stupid, unsuccessful, insignificant, or a failure. Most of us are somewhere in between. Striving for excellence is a process, one that requires pacing and patience. Striving for perfection is insanity and will only make you miserable.

So the next time you hear the statement, “Go hard or go home” consider these alternatives:

  1. Something is better than nothing.
  2. Perfection is not the goal, excellence is.
  3. Excellence is always achievable if you remember that excellence is a process that never ends, requires patience and hard work, and allows for our continual growth, no matter where we are on the journey.
  4. Growth occurs in ebbs and flows. Don’t get discouraged when you get tired, fail to meet preset expectations or disappoint others. Remind yourself of #’s 1, 2, and 3 and keep moving forward.  

Question: What do you think when you hear the expression, “Go hard or go home!”? Does it motivate or discourage you? What helps you to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself?

Mark 8:34- Whoever desires to save his life will lose it. Whoever will lose his life for Christ’s sake will find it.”

Lord, these ancient words are confounding and mysterious. At the same time, they are as clear as an ocean sunrise.  I struggle with the desire for my life to mean something. I want recognition. I want glory. But to pursue these desires and measure my success by them would destroy me completely. In place of recognition and glory, I would only know infamy and disgrace. Like trying to fill my cup with the steam from a kettle, I know my own insanity. Take it! Take my life out of my own destructive hands and do with it what you will! Then give it back to me when and only when it belongs totally to you!

Lord, show me how to be humble, if possible, without having to be humbled. Show me how to deny myself, if possible, without having to be denied your blessings. Reveal to me the secret of taking up my cross only to discover that the burden is light. Let me be lost in You so that I can find myself. I choose to be content in the midst of paradox. I choose to bask in the certainty of You and nothing else.

Thank you for what you will do with this prayer…or perhaps what you will not do!

Success and failure. They seem so black and white. So in line with our society’s all or nothing mentality. But how do you define success? You cannot acheive something that you don’t fully understand. How do we “finally arrive” when we don’t even know where we are going?

 I have a secret for you. It is an ancient secret. It runs contrary to everything we are taught from our earliest memories on. We are told, “You must crawl. You must walk. You must run.” And when we reach adulthood, they tell us, “You must sprint!” All the while, this ancient secret is just beyond sight. We cannot hear its whisper over the din of progress. Its sweet taste is overpowered by the unsatisfying feast we stuff into our hungry mouths each day. But it is still there, nonetheless. It is so mysterious and so powerfully illusive that the moment you try to “achieve it” or “grasp it” or “succeed” at it, you’ve lost it completely. What is this secret?

Stay tuned…

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I am a board certified psychiatrist, author, speaker in private practice with Southwest Clinical and Forensics in Dallas Tx. I also serve as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have a passion for helping people through painful circumstances, be they physical illnesses of the brain, psychological conditions of the mind, social problems of everyday life, and/or spiritual crises of faith and worldview.

Disclaimer

All information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a professional evaluation or treatment. If you are experiencing emotional distress, please contact a mental health professional. Dr. Henderson cannot respond to inquiries about prescription refills, or medical or psychiatric emergencies over the internet. If you are a patient in need of assistance, please contact Dr. Henderson’s office directly, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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