Perfection and Failure

I remember the year that I decided my New Year’s resolution would be something wild and crazy - commit to healthy eating. No sugar. A lot of lettuce and sprouts. We spent New Year’s Eve at the beach with our friends and headed home mid-day on January 1st. Pete, who had no such delusions regarding his eating habits, had a two pound bag of M&M’s sitting between us in the front console. Mindlessly, I munched away. Then I remembered - Oh, no! My New Year’s resolution is RUINED!! I guess there is no hope for change.

I probably ate 20 M&M’s - which was enough to convince me that the year was blown. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is the hallmark of perfectionism. It is destructive. It is a set up. It serves as a simple and extremely effective strategy for not actually having to DO, COMMIT, CHANGE.

Should we just give up? Heck no! We can work at improving. We can give up on the lie that we are what we do - especially if other people notice and praise us for our excellence. Healthy efforts to change are NOT about performance or perfecting. What is it about?

1. Evaluate self without tying it to what other people think.

2. Ask the question: How can I make progress toward my goal?

Scott told a story in a recent message about an experiment where folks were given the instruction to figure out how to get everything on the table mounted to the wall (candles/matches/box of thumb tacks). One group was told that time was not a factor; take as much time as you needed. The second group was instructed to go as fast as they could in order to win a prize. Which group was quicker? Group one.

Performance pressures decrease our abilities. Stress reduces our dexterity, our creativity, our ability to perform. Perfectionism is not helpful for becoming more successful. Good enough is an attitude that creates more success. The pressure to be the best inevitably reduces our chances of being #1.

Perfectionism is the enemy of transformation. It’s a tiny god that demands feeding but gives nothing in return but shame and guilt. How can we encourage self-compassion and a commitment to growth? One way is to find a way to encourage empathy even as we join together in daring to dream that we can be and do better at bearing the image of God.

Grounded

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

One day recently someone asked me to meet them for coffee to talk about how they didn’t think they could keep going to their church (not ours, another large church in the area) because the church was in the middle of a building campaign and they were unable to give at the percentage that the church was asking each of their members to consider.  It turns out this person had lost his job when his company went belly up and he was too embarrassed to share that information.

 

His deacon had come to visit as part of the churchwide building campaign. My friend assumed that the deacon was accusing him of being unfaithful; it didn’t occur to him that deacons were visiting all the members of the church. I do not know this church well and acknowledged that I did not understand what the situation was from the deacon’s perspective.  But I encouraged my friend to ask himself this question: do you think you go to a good church? Yes, unequivocably yes, was his reply. Then why assume that they would judge you? Why not at least go to someone and tell them the truth of your situation. See what happens. You can always leave, I pointed out, but try not to disappear without clarity.

 

He did what I suggested; within four days he had a new job (that he loves) working for one of the members of his church.  His pastor suggested that he suspend all tithes and offerings for the rest of the year until the family could get back on more solid footing and suggested other ways he could contribute to the building campaign that did not involve financial promises he may not be in a position to honor.  That’s a good church.

 

This church gave evidence of being grounded in love and compassion in real time.  I predict that this gentleman, by nature generous, will become in years to come even more generous in his support of his church and maybe especially for those who lose their jobs.  He beams when he speaks of his church and instead of disappearing, he is more involved than ever before. All win.

 

How can we start thinking more about the “all win” love perspective?  If we can do that, we won’t need to obsess about succeeding; we will be too busy successfully living.

Inextricably Linked

Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.  
Braving The Wilderness, p. 45

 

 

We are all inextricably connected…When we find ourselves believing in the law of scarcity (there is not enough to go around) and striving to compete for love and attention (our primal need is to be known and loved) it is easy to miss the connection we have to each other.  

 

We are missing that A LOT lately.  We call people snowflakes, which in theory sounds lovely since we are drawn to the beauty and uniqueness of each individual flake as they fall from the sky providing us with school cancellations and an excuse to sit by a cozy fire.  But that’s not what it means. Snowflake is a term we use to describe others who seem to take offense at beliefs or statements that don’t match their own.

 

Here’s the problem - this does not take into account how inextricably linked we are!  Is it true that some folks are too sensitive? Maybe. But is it also true that many of us are insensitive to how our language and beliefs are truly offensive to others?  Absolutely. Have we considered that maybe someone we are calling a Snowflake is really a person who is calling us out and challenging us in a good way to consider how we need to become more self-aware?  If we could see the spiritual connection would we still speak so disparagingly of another?

 

Millenials.  They get called names all the time.  Articles are written that tells them that they will never be as successful as their parents, they won’t live as long, they are not...enough.  We are told that they have had it too soft. If that is true, shouldn’t we be having a discussion about the parents of millenials? Either way, what culture deliberately and aggressively denigrates their offspring?  These young adults are our future. I do not know what the heck people are talking about because every one of these kids that I know personally are engaged in carrying about our world and its people. If we realized our connection, perhaps even the damage we have caused by not being the adults some of our young folks needed when they were children, would we still speak so dismissively of any of them, much less an entire generation?

 

There are countless examples I could give to illustrate how out of touch we are with this precept that we are all inextricably connected.  But for today, try to think about the reality that we are indeed connected to people and the environment and the spiritual realm. Maya Angelou said, “Words are things.  You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words.  I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.” We are inextricably linked; wake up!

Living the Life

A while back I (Teresa) wrote a series of blog posts on the three “arenas” of love that we are taught in the scriptures to pursue.  Loving God is the foundation and overarching principle. Think of it as a love sandwich and God is the bread. The sandwich itself is made up of: love and respect for self (self-care and personal responsibility), love expressed within our intimate relationships, and love of the “we” - our community.  My premise in writing was twofold: 1. We need to strive for balance in all three arenas and 2. Each arena serves its own purpose in our lives and when we get those confused we get into trouble relationally.

 

 

I think one of the major reasons we struggle to stay connected as a tribe is because we are out of balance.  Time and again I observe how often we ask our intimate connections or community to “do for us” that which we are supposed to be taking responsibility for ourselves.  When that happens we often end up frustrated with the “other”. We get our feelings hurt. We ask why “they” didn’t love us enough “to do_____”. Are we as willing to turn the question around and ask:  “Why don’t I respect myself enough to do____? What is my part in this intimate relationship? How does my presence support the thriving of my community?”

 

There are a million ways this kind of dysfunction messes with tribe.  Maybe we have the opposite problem. Maybe we become needless and wantless, thinking that our job is to give and give and give ourselves away.  That’s equally problematical. It is unsustainable. And...it creates imbalance among the tribe, where ideally everyone is doing a little which adds up to a quite lovely and balanced way of living amongst one another.  

 

We have proven by our acceptance of the premise without pushback that we value community but I am not sure we have thoroughly digested what it means to participate in making a community “successful.” I am pretty confident that it doesn’t mean actually succeeding at goals and objectives.  I trust that it is more about showing up. Trying. Being kind. Simple and straightforward. So simple and straightforward that we might miss the beauty of it if we are distracted by “success” in all its traditional presentations.

 

What is your definition of success from a tribal perspective?  Is it too focused on what you get out of it? Is it not focused enough on what you need from it?  Do you believe it requires that certain objectives are reached? Do we all have to get along? What about the role of conflict within community?  Can you handle the inevitable complaints and criticisms that come when a group gathers? Where does forgiveness AND accountability fit into the picture?  These are good questions that we must address for ourselves personally, between our intimate connections and within a tribe.

We all agree on the need for community

In our community we speak ALL the time about the value of having a tribe.  We write about it in our blog posts. We encourage families who come in to meet with us privately to find a community for support and a place where they can find purpose.  NO ONE has EVER given us any lip about this. Not one single human being has ever said, “You guys are nuts!”

 

 

For context, please understand the various things people have given us feedback on over the years - which, by the way, we appreciate.  How else will we learn and grow and improve our serve, but here are a few things that people have felt the need to call, write or meet with us to help us improve ourselves and community over the years.  People complain about: the fact that we respect the 12-step process and mutual aid societies (we are not Christian enough), the fact that we are Christians (we are not recovered enough), the fact that neither Scott nor I are in recovery for a Substance Use Disorder, the location of our building, the fact that we have a building, the fact that we didn’t get a building soon enough, the fact that we didn’t choose a different building, the fact that we study the enneagram (we are devil worshipers and we do not understand salvation), the color of the carpet/the walls, people are too friendly, people are not friendly enough, the kind of chairs we use, snow cancellations, FAILURE to cancel, the time we meet, the number of meetings we hold (too few/too many), the particular scripture verse we chose in a message, the LACK of a scripture verse in the message, a particular book we quote, our Family Education Program (families don’t have a problem, why should you ask us to come to a meeting...just tell me what to do over the phone), our music (too loud, too quiet, not a person’s preferential style), our coffee (too strong, to weak), our food (too much, too little, not considerate of dietary restrictions) Teresa/Scott are too direct/indirect/naive/uninformed and more, how many times we send out emails and the content of said emails (too often/not often enough/bad graphics/mistakes in grammar and spelling/forgetting key details)....to name a few.  Notice that many of these are legitimate complaints. There are many others, but this I think gives you a flavor for our feedback.

 

So when I tell you that NOT ONE SINGLE HUMAN BEING HAS EVER IN ALMOST 20 YEARS GIVEN US PUSHBACK ABOUT THE NEED FOR FINDING AND INTEGRATING INTO A TRIBE.  

That is significant.  

 

This raises a HUGE question:  why do so many of us continue to struggle with loneliness?  Why do we have trouble figuring out how to be “part of”? I do not know.  I have a few theories. I want to explore what it would look like to be a “success” within a community of people for a few days and see if we can figure some of this out. Remember - we all seem to agree that a community SHOULD be a good thing for us day to day.  Because I have funerals on my mind, I am wondering about this: at the end of the day, at the end of our life, wouldn’t it be a lovely thing to have a community gather that sincerely is going to miss our presence? Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a final gathering of loving folks who knew and loved us for who we authentically and imperfectly were?  Wouldn’t that be the greatest success of all? Only people with tribes get tributes like that.

Reframing Success

While we are reframing, what about reframing success?  

 

 

Most of the time when I want to have a stellar cup of coffee I pop into one of my two favorite local coffee shops - Roastology or Perk.  Occasionally I find myself in need of coffee but with a grandchild in tow so I go through a Starbucks in our neighborhood that has a drive thru window. (Have you tried out these new car seats? I have a daily limit as to how many times I will strap one of these kiddos in and haul them out.)  Fortunately, I am a lucky duck and often have a kiddo buckled up in the backseat, go through the window often and am familiar with the tricky maneuvers required to navigate the long lines. Last week I circled the building and was about to make the final turn to align myself with the long line of drive thru coffee guzzlers when a lady entered the Starbucks lot.  I motioned her forward. She hopped in line in front of me. Happens all the time. No big deal.

 

But evidently to her it was a big deal.  She thought I was exiting the area; when she realized I was behind her in line she was mortified.  At least that’s what the barista told me when she handed me my free coffee, paid for with apologies from the lady in the car in front of me.

 

I had no complaints or awareness of perceived offense.  I showed no displeasure at her entry into the line because I wasn’t displeased.  But it really got me thinking about success in a world that craves it so much.

 

This gal made an amends for what she perceived as her personal failure to be courteous.  I found it to be an act of great kindness on a day when I was experiencing the world as mean and cold and hard.  The coffee is immaterial; her act of contrition (albeit unnecessary) was a balm on a heavy heart.

 

Need a bit more success and a little less failure in your life?  Be kind. Just be kind.

 

Can you think of some opportunities to be kind in a small, quiet way that might make a huge difference to someone else?  You never know who is having a horrible day; your one small act might just turn the day around.

Reframing Failure

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  

~ Thomas A. Edison

 

 

Words matter.  How we think about ourselves, our perceived successes and our perceived failures is interesting to me.  I have friends with boundless enthusiasm and an almost limitless capacity for turning any situation into a success.  These folks are masters of reframing.

 

If Edison lacked the capacity to think of 10,000 “ways that won’t work” and instead had angsted over his “failures” - could he have tried that 10,001st time?  I think not. People who cannot handle failure may lack the resilience needed to innovate or even stay with meaningful but mostly doomed endeavors simply because they are meaningful and the right thing to do.

 

Reframing can be mostly good, and I’d rather have the capacity to reframe than not.  It allows us to adjust our expectations along the way. Edison is a great example of a guy who appreciated the value of a decent reframe.  Instead of considering every experiment a failure, he looked at each one as eliminating a option that was never going to bring him success.

 

 

What situations would benefit from some reframing in your life?

"Failure is not an option"

In the movie Apollo 13, Ed Harris (playing the part of Gene Kranz, flight director of Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions for NASA) says, “Failure is not an option.”  And then by ding dongy those magicians at NASA SUCCEED! It turns out that Kranz did not actually say this in real life but he loved the fiction so much he used it as a title for his memoir.  It is also the title of a presentation on the History Channel documenting the United States’ space program. If your want to watch this inspiring clip, sure to warm your heart, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tid44iy6Rjs.  

 

 

But the truth is, failure is absolutely an option; it happens every day.  I fail every day to notice a moment when I could have been kinder, gentler, more loving and more helpful.  Don’t talk to me about failure as if it is not an option; don’t tell Kate Bowler who counts the days she will have with her child as opposed to the decades she anticipated that failure is not an option.  Failure is not only an option, it is a guarantee.

 

Why do we set these standards for success without respecting the reality of failure?  Who got the bright idea that if we double-down on demonizing failure that somehow we would end up with more success?  As far as I can tell, it just increases the likelihood that we will develop nervous tics or a propensity to self-medicate.

 

In my world acceptance of reality can be the difference between life and death.  I suspect it is a better predictor of someone’s longevity than unbridled optimism.  Acceptance requires that we ALWAYS respect the possibility that failure is an option.

 

This is hard, but it is also true.  

 

Is there any relationship or situation in your life that is challenging you to step out of denial and into the world of reality?  Failure is an option. What do you need to accept?

Are you afraid to "fail"?

'When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.'  

~ Augusten Burroughs

 

How can we speak of success without looking at its counterpart - failure?  Burroughs seems to imply that health in and of itself is success. Does this then mean that sickness is failure?

Silly, right?  We would never explicitly accuse a sick person of being a failure because they are sick…...would we?  Certainly this is not what Burroughs is suggesting - he’s saying what we all know - it is very hard to be sick, and when we are well we often take our health for granted.  He’s asking us to wake up and be grateful.

 

Kate Bowler has written a lovely book called “Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved” that challenges us to REALLY look at our perspective on sickness and health.  Kate is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Duke University. Unless you are a Tarheels fan, Kate’s school resume alone reeks of success.  She has published a book on “the prosperity gospel” called “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel”. Again, success.

 

In case the term “prosperity gospel” doesn’t mean much to you, here is how Kate describes it, “The prosperity gospel is a theodicy, an explanation for the problem of evil…[it] looks at the world as it is and promises a solution.  It guarantees that faith will always make a way.” (xiii, Everything Happens For A Reason)

 

And in the midst of living her big dream life - great job, married to her high school sweetheart, and mother of a toddler - her life was nothing BUT possibility.  Until the day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

 

Is Kate Bowler a failure?  By all objective standards, she is not.  But man, you should hear some of the crazy things people said to her about her cancer.  All well-intended but it seemed like EVERYONE wanted to offer her an explanation, a promise of hope, a potential beat-the-odds-miracle if only she drank this kind of juice or prayed this kind of prayer or believed with all her heart.  

 

Truth be told, in our world, failure is verboten.  Failure, when it happens, is a reason to blame, judge, hide and run from - which I think it is why we “explain”.  If we are going to wrangle with the meaning of success, we might want to start with dismantling our fear of failure.  

 

Are you afraid of failure?  Why or why not? What would be the worst failure you could imagine?

 

Failure can be a success

It's important to not always be "successful" in life, at least in the traditional sense.  Failure to be traditionally successful can, in fact, foster the kind of growth that allows us to be softer, gentler, kinder, more empathetic and well-rounded people.  It can be the spark that allows us to pursue a life of greater meaning, one defined by our call to point towards God's gifts of mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, etc.

 

These failures may not help our ego.  They may not help our status, our prestige, or our wealth.  They may not give us stories to tell at parties. But they may help us become people.  What greater calling can we have than to become a person?  Specifically, a person whose life somehow, in some small ways, demonstrates God's values or character?

 

I may die with all the prestige in the world, but if my loved ones gather before the funeral and talk about what an asshole I was...what good was my broader reputation?