Yesterday was Election Day here. As I voted, I found that (as usual) the race that prompts the most conflicted emotions in me in the local school board.
It’s not that I care more about that race than any of the others. In fact, because I don’t have children, the school system doesn’t really have a direct impact on me, so it’s not something I focus on much. It’s also the one race that is most challenging to learn anything of substance about those running.
My conflicted feelings come more from the fact that those running for the school board positions feel most like everyday people who are putting themselves out there to volunteer for a duty that would support something they care about.
These aren’t career politicians. They aren’t supported by any party. They are all out there on their own spending their own money and time trying to do something helpful, and only half of them will reach their goal of getting to serve.
I always regret that I can’t vote for every single one of them because their situation triggers my own memories of times when I did my best and failed to meet a goal that mattered to me.
Just the mere memory of those times makes me cringe in embarrassment as shame creeps in to remind me of just how often my best has not been good enough to meet a goal, to win (or keep) a relationship that mattered, to make a positive difference, to reach success.
As this feeling got triggered (yet again) yesterday while I walked to my car after voting and was passing all the signs for school board candidates (some of whom got my vote and some who didn’t), I realized perhaps for the first time that this story that was triggering my emotion what just that—just a story.
“My best was not (is not) good enough” is nothing more than a story that I tell myself every time I fail.
It’s a story that quickly evolves into “I am not good enough,” and from there it quickly expands in my mind from the one point of failure I am facing to an all-encompassing “truth” about who I am.
The truth is that my story of “my best is not good enough” is just one possible story that I could choose to tell myself after failure, and it’s definitely not the most helpful one I could choose.
Yes, it’s true that I may not have reached my goal or failed to accomplish whatever it was that I was aiming for, but it’s never all about me.
In any relationship that I failed to win (or keep), the failure of the relationship is as much about the other person as it is about me. It may just not have been the right time or the right relationship for me no matter what I did or didn’t do.
Any goal I set out to achieve is dependent not just on my hard work, but also on a host of other variables that I can’t control. Failure may have nothing to do with whether my best was “good enough” and more to do with timing, other people’s awareness (or beliefs or fears or interests), or even something as uncontrollable as the weather.
In reality, failure to achieve any goal I set out to achieve is never about whether I am good enough.
It is just information about what didn’t work to help me either re-assess my goal or re-assess my approach to that goal.
That doesn’t make it any more pleasant, but I feel a good deal less broken by failure when I refuse to buy into the story that it’s an indication that I’m not good enough.
It also makes me more likely to risk going after my goal again (or setting a new goal) when I don’t make my success or failure about my worth.
I’m grateful to all of those local school board candidates who were willing to put themselves out there to run, and I hope those who didn’t make their goal know that it’s not about their worth either. I hope they will all stay involved and keep working for a better school district here even if they didn’t get the opportunity to serve as they wanted.
In the meantime, I have some work to do to continue to disengage from this harmful (and untrue) story about my success or failure having anything to do with my being good enough. Just recognizing that it’s nothing more than a false story has been a big start, though.
Will you join me in dropping this story from your thoughts as well?
How do you respond to failure? What stories about failure have proven most helpful to you?
How do you best motivate yourself to bounce back from failure to meet your goals?
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