A Beautiful Failure

And then, there are those days when clarity arrives; when you realize that what-you-really-want and what-you-thought-you-wanted are two totally different things… divergent things, really.

There are those days. “Epiphanies” they are sometimes called.

For almost the entirety of this last year, I have been battling insomnia. My own particular form works like this: I go to bed and I fall asleep; however, far earlier that might seem healthy, I wake with a start and am unable to get back to sleep.

So I get up, go to the gym, come home, and write… like I am doing right now. This particular morning, my “wake-up time” was 2:45 am. (I am writing this three days before it is scheduled to post.)

It’s not hard to figure out what it is that wakes me up at night, because it is (almost) always the same thing: thoughts about work. In real life, I work in a little place called “Corporate America”, and where my job responsibilities directly effect thousands of employees, millions of customers, and millions of shareholders. A short description would be that I am the person at my company responsible for knowing everything that is going to happen before it actually happens.

So, no stress there.

A couple of days ago, I was approached about going back into the area I started out in with the company. It would mean leaving the “futile attempt to be omniscient” division, instead working in the “actually helping human beings” department.

You might think, by those descriptions, I would have immediately jumped at the opportunity when it was raised, but I did not. My honest initial reaction was to try to figure out first whether or not I had failed at the job I’m actually in.

As I proceeded then to discuss this with my wife, two of my co-workers, and one of my best online (blog) friends, their reactions were virtually unanimous: take the new job, it’s a godsend, this job is killing you.

This job is killing me?

“Yes,” says one of my coworkers. “I’ve seen what it’s done to you this last year. I hate seeing you like this.”

I won’t belabor the point here, it is my intention to take the new job. What’s interesting to me is how much my obsessive desire to be “good at” whatever I happen to be doing has resulted in unhealthy or even warped thinking. I didn’t seek out the job I happen to have now; I was chosen for it. I’ve been aware of having some shortcomings in the position. I should have immediately jumped at a chance to do something I know I love doing, but I hesitated because I hate to think I “failed” at anything.

And yet, by normal standards, I’ve “failed” at a lot of things. My first marriage. Being a father. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

My first really large failure — at least, in my mind — was at age eight when I realized I was never going to be a great painter.

I was taking painting lessons from a tiny woman who had an art studio and taught something like 30 students. I had it all worked out in my head: I was going to be a world famous painter. So I listened carefully to all her instructions, and applied myself diligently. Only…

I have no eye, and I notice almost nothing, visually. I was horrible, really, but it took awhile to dawn on me. However, dawn on me, it did.

I loved paintings. My father was an artist, and I wanted to be like him; I just didn’t have it in me.

After a year of lessons, my art teacher had an “awards ceremony” (this was 1970, in case you think such things are only a recent phenomenon) where they gave out awards like “best still life” “best human figure” “best use of color” and so on. Eventually, everyone in the studio had an award, except me.

Oh, but she had thought of one. I received the “Most Original Style” award, which was a polite way of saying “what the hell is that you just painted”?

So right after the ceremony, I quit. I told my parents I didn’t want to take art lessons any more.

They argued, as some of you no doubt may try to do, that having an “original style” is what all artists strive for. Yeah, well, I wasn’t striving for it: I wanted people to be able to tell what it was I painted.

My parents asked me to reconsider and stay at it. I was obdurate: I wasn’t going back. They relented.

I did regret it, later, but in a weirdly ambiguous way. I regretted the loss of my dream of being an artist. I couldn’t really regret quitting lessons, because, I was a horrible painter.

Epiphanies don’t always make you happier at first.

A year or so after that, I started piano lessons, and that was much more my thing. So then I was happier.

The Beautiful One, who is peacefully sleeping right now on our bed, wants me to take this new job and find some peace of mind. It is my intention to take the job; as to peace of mind, that remains to be seen.

In this very room is one of the paintings I painted at eight years old. It’s not a great painting, but it’s a beautiful kind of failure: a still life painted with that combination of dreams and illusions that make up human hope.

So here’s to beautiful failure: for while failure is inevitable, in many ways, the desire and search for beauty, truth, and goodness are what really matters.

Author: Sibelius Russell

Sibelius Russell (a/k/a/ Owen "Beleaguered" Servant) lives a life of whimsical servitude -- whatever that means.

5 thoughts on “A Beautiful Failure”

  1. Yes, trying to be good at our jobs can be very “trying.” Maybe that’s why it’s called that. Did you ask anyone why they suggested you take the other job? Maybe it has nothing to do with failure. Maybe your current job needs to be reconfigured or you are doing the job of three people. But any job that keeps you awake at night just isn’t worth it, imho. Good luck with your decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fresh out of college i failed as a music teacher and went back to school to regroup-only did i fail ? During those two years that i taught instrumental music i started 30+ kids out on wind instruments and organized two bands where there had been none.
    Following grad school i went back into teaching(visual arts this time) and worked happily for nearly 30 years. Then
    i failed as a ceramist when my back gave in-only did i? I have incorporated much of that learning into my current work.
    However, i truly failed when towards the end of my career, i tried to stick it out as a public school teacher against unequal political odds and an increasingly impossible work load. That nearly killed me. i failed when i refused to accept conditions and embrace change and growth. I failed when i tried to hold time still.

    As Bob Dylan said, as long as you’re always in a state of becoming you’ll always be sort of all right.

    Glad you’ve chosen change.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m always surprised how good our failures can be for making progress in our lives, if they help guide us on the path to where we should be. I tend to have a mentality that I can do anything if I put my mind to it but have to face the reality that I’m going to be better at some things than others and those are the things that I should be pursuing further in the first instance. Having said that, if I have areas of weakness that I am able to improve then this is also acceptable, providing that they do improve over time and realising/acknowledging that if the writing is on the wall that improvement is impossible then I need to move on with no regrets.

    One of my constant epiphanies is that I am so much more different in each stage of my life (say every 5/10 years) than I was in the previous stage, which causes me to revisit things that I might have tried years ago and come at them with fresh confidence, experience and perspectives. It could be that the reason you couldn’t achieve something earlier in your life is that you just weren’t ready or in the right frame of mind to tackle it but that could all have changed now, especially if it is many years down the line and you have access to more time, focus and patience reserves to apply to a particular skill area. I think you can constantly surprise yourself regarding your own potential and what you are actually capable of, even if it took you all this time to figure out how to get there.

    I would never advocate doing something because you are good at it though if it affects your physical and/or mental health. I’m glad you are taking steps to change this because as Lori mentions in her comment, a job that is trying is not trying to be your friend at all, especially if it effects sleep. Sleep is very important for our health and well-being and to deny ourselves a good night’s sleep can lead to a whole host of other problems. Combine it with stress and all kinds of things can go wrong, it has happened to me in the past where I’ve had serious health issues and I’ve felt much better from moving on from the job, even though I was good at it because my own health and well-being took priority. I’m sure you will see the benefits soon too of getting a decent night’s rest in your new position, hope it works out well for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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