About a year and a half ago, after I had made some difficult life choices, my sister sent me a few books of encouragement, one of which was Brené Brown’s “Rising Strong.” I have long been a fan of Brown, (you should look up her TED Talks on YouTube if you haven’t seen them), but I didn’t get around to picking the book up to read until this week.
In case you missed it, I recently lost my bid for a seat on the Rome City Commission. I promise that this event didn’t prompt my choice in reading material, but the irony wasn’t lost. By all traditional parameters, that loss can be defined as a failure, but as we head into Thanksgiving I wish to discuss how we look at failure, and how I don’t consider my loss to be a failure, at all.
In the opening paragraph of her introduction to “Rising Strong,” Brown describes talking with a reporter who declares he wants to start working on his issues related to vulnerability, courage and authenticity after reading a couple of her books. She writes:
“He laughed and said, ‘It sounds like it could be a long road. Can you give me the upside of doing this work?’ I told him that with every ounce of my professional and personal being, I believe that vulnerability — the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome — is the only path to more love, belonging and joy. He quickly followed up with, ‘And the downside?’ This time I was the one laughing. ‘You’re going to stumble, fall and get your ass kicked.’”
Yeah, pretty much. But, I would propose that a sore derrière should be at the top of the list of things to be thankful for in this holiday of gratitude, though that is not always an easy conclusion to find.
Vulnerability is a topic Brown has been working on for years (did you look up those TED Talks yet?). Kathy Mattea sang about it, C.S. Lewis wrote about it, and Shakespeare reminded us, more than once, why we should be terrified of it.
Why on earth would we put ourselves in such a precarious position?
I would say that most of the time we find ourselves unable to stop the truth. Does that make sense? Have you ever found yourself unable to keep from proclaiming your love for someone, regardless of the outcome? I hope so. What is more cathartic than to take something you have pondered for weeks/months/years and actually put it on the table for analysis? Painful, downright excruciatingly so, yet relieving as you let the chips fall where they may.
If you look up “thankful” in the dictionary it is defined as being “pleased and relieved.” I have never considered relief when thinking on thankfulness. Of course, relieved means “no longer feeling distressed or anxious; reassured” so it does make sense.
Can we feel relieved with an outcome that may not have fallen in our favor?
We can, I’m here to tell you, if we allow ourselves to accept the gold of lessons learned, of growth, of perspective, over the brass ring we may have targeted.
The pure gold of my run for office was the support I received in boundless measure. You learn how many friends you have when you put yourself in a position of need. You don’t have to run for office to find it. Simply expose your vulnerabilities, no matter what they might be, and your friends will surround you. I’ve seen it over and over again, and I am thankful for the reminder.
The pure gold of my decision was the list of things I learned about myself. It turns out I use my hands a lot when I talk, and my legs, and all of the rest of me. Turns out I laugh too much for some people, too. Watching oneself on video and listening to your critics are not for the faint of heart, but I am thankful for the lessons.
The pure gold of this experience was the way in which it helped me focus on what I believe is important for our community to move forward, and I will not give up on those convictions, in spite of the outcome. It has helped me discover my authentic self and I will continue to do the work that I started in whatever form it takes. I am thankful for the resolve.
What has happened for you over the last year that felt like failure? Tomorrow, as you gather with family and friends, I encourage you to find the lessons and positive things that have come from unexpected outcomes, and then share those thoughts with those around you. Share those vulnerabilities, watch the blessings unfold, and enjoy the relief.
Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.