Permission to Fail

Success_FailureI’m a worst-case scenario kind of gal.

As someone with imagination by the bucketful, I can always picture the most dire outcome possible for virtually every scenario. Which is great if you’re looking for dramatic tension in a story, but pretty much sucks if you want to live your live without being constantly hounded by worry and fear.

Things aren’t going well for me at the moment. Money is beyond tight; it’s a laughing memory. I’ve had to make some sacrificial decisions based on the lack of funds, and the future isn’t looking any-too-rosy, either. I’m having trouble sleeping. I’m having nightmares when I do sleep. And let me tell you, they are full Technicolor anxiety-inducing stuff-of-dreams that leave me more tense and drained than if I’d never shut my eyes at all.

I’ve gotten very little writing done this year, which is a problem because writing is supposed to be the back-up plan to supplement the income. Well, it’s a struggle to write anything worth reading when your head is up your ass. For one thing, it’s pretty dark in there. Yeah, I know, whine more, right? But when you are so busy chasing your tail and stressing about your future, it’s hard to focus on the here and now.

Last night I came home after a stressful day at work, which had included a disquieting conversation with one of my bosses. I hadn’t slept much the night before. I’d forgotten to turn on the AC before I left the house, so it was like a sauna when I arrived home. I was fretting about what to eat for dinner when it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps, given the difficulties of coping with everything in my life right now, it wasn’t a big deal that I am 20 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. (Okay, 25…) That maybe this was one goal that it was okay for me to put on the back burner for a while, as long as I didn’t let it out of sight completely. That, *gasp*, maybe it was okay to fail.

The sense of relief that I didn’t have to beat myself up over my dinner choices is hard to describe.

Like a domino-effect, I began applying it to almost everything else in my life that has been looming over my head like a Sword of Damocles for, I don’t know, the last couple of decades. With very few exceptions, nothing that I have been stewing and fretting over would kill me if it came to pass. I don’t become a successful writer? Well, it would be nice, but it won’t kill me if it doesn’t happen. I lose the house, lose my job, have to relocate, etc. etc.–none of these things will make me happy. Some of them will crush me. But they won’t kill me.

Recently I had to move my mare to a retirement farm where I can no longer ride her. I am still brought to tears every time I think of this. But I realize now that this fear of losing her has gripped me for years, impacting the time we had together when we had it. In the last couple of years, I’ve struggled to get out to the barn (despite the fact that it was easier than ever before in terms of location) because of the crushing weight of what might happen looming over me. I’m doing the same kind of ‘regret in advance’ with my dog, too. With everything I love and am terrified of losing. Perhaps if I distance myself in advance, it somehow won’t hurt so goddamn much when it finally comes to pass.


It’s still going to hurt like hell.

But far better to live for the moment, to suck the marrow out of the bones of life, to smile as you feel the sun on your face, instead of worry yourself sick over the rains of tomorrow.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that by giving myself permission to fail, I was able to take a deep breath and say, “Right. Got that over with. Now what?”

Oddly enough, I chose something reasonably healthy for dinner. I’d given myself permission to fail completely, utterly, and totally. And my brain said, “Why don’t you have a salad with your dinner?” Because for the first time in a long time, I could listen to what I wanted instead of what I should eat or what I ought to eat. And left to its own devices on a hot spring evening, my brain said, “Well, don’t eat that, you know it always makes you feel crappy. Why don’t you have this?” And I didn’t feel deprived or resentful at all. Given the freedom to choose, it didn’t do half bad.Β  Maybe I should trust myself more often.

Or maybe the pressure to succeed ceases to be useful when it becomes the reason you fail.

There are events that happen in our lives that are beyond our control. The only thing we can control is our reaction to them. I’ve heard this and understood this for decades. But I think I might finally know exactly what that means now. You have to come to the point of smashing up on the rocks before you realize you have no control over where the tide takes you. Sometimes, you have to trim your sails and stop fighting the pull of the water in order to reach solid ground again.



18 thoughts on “Permission to Fail

  1. Hugs you *hard*. My heart aches for you, as well as admires you for your grit and courage and how you keep going on.

    I read something recently that might help when things seem overwhelming and chaotic, and you feel like you’re bobbing helplessly on a flood tide and you can’t remember how to swim. You touched on it in your last paragraph.

    Find something you can control.

    Doesn’t have to be huge and earth shattering, doesn’t have to be massively significant. But it’s something that is completely in your hands to do, that you have 100% control over, and *do it every day*. Say, maybe: “It’s time to walk H”, put everything else aside, take control of your life for the half-hour or hour it takes you to go and walk in the woods with him, breathe the fresh air and the scent of green things.

    Doesn’t have to be walking H. It could be a fifteen minutes taken each day to read a book, or do your nails, or pulling up weeds in the garden. The point is that for that period of time, religiously done every day, you are in control of who you are and what you do – *you* were in control, not the worries and anxieties, not the money problems, not the losses and regrets. You.

    It won’t make you rich. But it might help with the stress levels a bit, and help you feel you’re taking your life back.

    But in the meantime, lots of hugs. Skype me any time you need to talk.
    Anna Butler recently posted..A Minor Inconvenience – but a major triumph!My Profile

    • Well, ironically, that would seem to be what I eat and how much I weigh, right? I mean, that’s one of the prime reasons given as to why young girls become so absorbed with their food intake and become anorexic–because for many of them, confused and overwhelmed with the changes associated with puberty, food intake IS the only thing they can control.The problem with that is that I come from a family background of eating disorders. No, I am not happy with how I look at the moment, but the pressure of controlling *that* as well as fighting everything else in my life right now is worse than being 25 pounds overweight. I guess I still remember too clearly finding the dessicated remains of meals not eaten hidden in the drawers of our shared room by my sister. I remember her stating proudly that all she’d had to eat was an apple and a cracker–and when I asked, “All day?”, she replied angrily, “No, all week!”

      I do hear what you’re saying, to take control of one moment every day and *own* it. Honestly, though, at the moment I think it is almost better to say that there is nothing completely in my control and to let it all go. I might feel differently in a few hours, or days, or months. But I think fighting the idea of ‘this is how things should be’ is bigger than the reality of ‘this is how things are.’

      The taking some time every day for some sort of meditative just-for-me act, though, yes, that is very good advice. I used to get that from doing barn chores. I need to find something to replace that. If nothing else, get back into doing yoga and meditation again.

      I appreciate the shoulder, the hugs, and the offer of venting. More than you know. You’re a good friend, Arthur. πŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

      • I hadn’t been thinking of controlling food – although of course you’re quite right there and that sort of thing can lead to terrible reactions. Because of my own hedonistic nature, I suppose, I was thinking of more self indulgent things; things that can comfort as well as give you that few moments of feeling back in control. It is more about the ‘just for me’ aspect that can help recharge the batteries, and I hope you do find something that will help you. Yoga sounds like a brilliant idea.
        Anna Butler recently posted..The Writer’s Guide to Page NumberingMy Profile

        • *nods* I figured that wasn’t exactly what you meant–my brain just automatically went for the pit-falls! πŸ˜‰

          I am taking a yoga class right now and I get a lot of benefit from it, especially since I am having to eliminate just about everything else that reduces my overall level of pain and keeps me mobile. I need to institute daily yoga at home, though. If nothing else but to push the ‘reset’ button every day.
          Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  2. I’ve been in this financial situation more times than I care to remember, and every time I find myself in a better place, I realize how much energy I wasted worrying about every little thing when I was miserable.

    After going through the cycle a few times, I am now better at not stressing over money. Do I laugh and dance and act as if I have no problems? No, but I stress less over them. I find ways to enjoy each day. I stop beating myself up for my failings.

    Because the one thing I’ve taken away from all of it? I will survive. One way or another, I’ll end up being okay again.
    Theo Fenraven recently posted..Two Dialogue Death Sentences & How to Get a Stay-of-ExecutionMy Profile

    • I’m conscious of how much I’m negatively impacting my enjoyment of what I have now because of the fear of future loss. I *know* this, and yet have struggled with it for years. Maybe it’s a form of subclinical depression, I don’t know. Maybe it stems from a lifetime of feeling rejected and surrounding myself with things that won’t reject me no matter what–but live very short lives in comparison. I dunno.

      I know I will survive whatever happens. But I also know that life hurts like hell, too. And to insulate myself from the hurting is to barricade myself from the joy. To borrow against the future by poisoning today with worry is not only wrong, but stupid, too.

      I wish you the best of luck on your new venture in life, Theo! It sounds like it’s been a wonderful move for you. πŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  3. Sarah, have you been spying on me? You and I seem to be going through the same things at the moment and what you say here rings so true. I think I need to take some of your advice πŸ™‚

    • Oh, Susan! I was hoping the new job/move meant things were looking up for you! I wouldn’t wish these experiences on anyone. πŸ™

      All I can offer is sympathies and a reminder to let go of the shoulda, woulda, couldas and try to find some peace with the reality of what is.

      I feel like I’m in quicksand and the more I struggle the faster I sink. I’m going to rest on the surface a while and see if I come up with a plan B. I hope that the shore is within reach for you–and that someone is holding out a rope. *hugs*
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  4. I too suffer with the paralyzing fear of failure. It’s like I think once I’ve failed at something I’m never allowed to try it again, or some door that was previously open to me will be forever closed. I’m SLOWLY learning that failure is an opportunity to try again, knowing more the next time around, but it’s definitely a work in progress!
    Margarita recently posted..Jane Eyre Readalong – Jane as a childMy Profile

    • I think that’s a really interesting take on the fear of failure–the notion that if you fail at someone you’ve lost your rights to ever try it again and that doors, once closed, are shut and barred.

      The reality is that most things are first drafts, and we get to polish and improve them over time. πŸ™‚

      I gotta keep reminding myself of that!
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  5. What a hell of a breakthrough!
    Your words remind me a lot of the Buddhist concept of suffering: it’s not due to bad things happening to us, it is due to our grasping hold onto the things we think makes us happy (or rich or loved or…). We are so desperate not to lose those things, to not feel the pain of loss or fear, that we make ourselves miserable in the grasping. So in a strange way, it is our desire to cling to our happiness that makes us unhappy and scared.
    It’s certainly something I’ve fought with in my meditative practice for years, it’s not *easy* to let go. But looks like you did a bang up job of it, at least for a little while. A reprieve is always good. <3
    Whatever happens, you will still be your awesome self. Fearing every aspect of the future — and you've written about that fear a lot — won't stop it from happening, whichever way it goes. So I wouldn't call any of those things failures, because you, yourself, are amazing! And that's the most important "success" there is. <3
    Cooper West recently posted..What Fandom Has Taught Me About: Havine a NicheMy Profile

    • The thing is, most of the trappings of ‘success’, I can do without. I don’t need a fancy house, or to be famous, or look fabulous. I like having the respect my peers but I don’t need their envy, if you know what I mean. I’m not a clotheshorse and I’m not house-proud. I drive a 10 year old car full of dog hair with dings and scratched paint.

      But the things that are important to me–the furry family I’ve created for myself as a replacement for a human one–for me to be in a position of having to scale back how I take care of them, well, that feels like failure in my eyes.

      The worse part is the quicksand of bills that just keep rolling in. Every time it looks like I might be able to pull myself up onto solid ground, the universe laughs and jerks me back into the mire again. I ignore what I can and pay what I must, but we’re coming to a point where I can no longer pay the musts… For someone who is an educated professional, who has worked *hard* her entire life and has absolutely nothing to show for it, that’s unbelievable. And yet the guy who replaced my windshield last fall makes more money annually than I do and he didn’t have to pay pack student loans for over decade, either.

      I didn’t do anything wrong. I graduated from high school. I graduated from college, and grad school, too. I don’t have a drug, alcohol, or gambling problem. I did everything I was told to be a successful person in the US in this day and age.

      I didn’t marry. And I believe that for single women of a certain age, that is a big factor in why so many of us live in near-poverty.

      I had horses. The equivalent of a drug problem in terms of cost (and addiction, and personal risk) but I can honestly say that without the horses, I would not only be in terrible physical condition but the chances are quite good I might not even be here at all. The horses kept me moving and functioning when things were at their darkest.

      Some could successfully argue that if I’d been a better ‘business person’ all these years, I wouldn’t be in this situation. That if I’d followed the industry rules regarding charging clients, padding the bill for this item, and that item, that I’d be comfortably well off right now. Well, as someone who loves their pets and aches for those who cannot care for them, I’ve always cut people slack and given them breaks. Now, not only can I no longer afford to do that, but I am feeling the pressure to pad and bump up the costs of my services. To increase the mark-up on something I sell by 100% or so.

      That’s not the person I want to be. πŸ™
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  6. *hugs* It’s so much easier to say and to comprehend intellectually than it is truly to internalise, but just as you say, I find every time I get sucked into panicking about the future, it doesn’t change anything any more than when I’m calm about it does. All it does is upset me, exhaust me, and prevent me enjoying all the good stuff. I *know* how impossible it sometimes seems to do that when the stresses are pressing in on one and there’s that terrible feeling of helplessness – you’ve done everything you possibly can and the numbers still won’t work – but I’m so glad you found a way to let them go. I hope it becomes easier to keep doing that, for both of us (and everyone else who needs to).
    Sarah Granger recently posted..Spies in breechesMy Profile

    • All it does is upset me, exhaust me, and prevent me enjoying all the good stuff

      This. I battle this daily. It is very difficult to let go, however, when it means letting go of everything that has ever meant anything to you. But that’s what I have to do. *hugs*
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  7. Breath Sarah…Take one day at time. I have been thru struggles like you have. It’s all a matter perspective on how you take those challenges and turn them into a lesson that you can learn from…

    My husband and I almost lost our house when the mortgage comp came out to reassess our property value last year, it decreased in value cause of the area in less than 2 years of purchasing. Our wasn’t the only one that had problems in the area. Even though we invested in improvements to the property it still went down in value cause the price was over inflated when we purchased.

    Then recently my husband’s dog, hasn’t been eating right. Ok she 13 going to be 14 in September, she an old lady…and for a pure breed boxer that is above average life span which is 12 years. Long story short she has stomach cancer… Not in pain or anything but the vets suggested putting her to sleep… Like I told the vets “would you issue execution orders if she was sick but not in pain, just a happy old lady who was being a picky eater? If she was in pain then that will be a different story. Just let the old lady be since she won’t be here much longer.”

    As for writing, my best suggestion is what others have told me to do take one day at time write something. Start with an idea graph and work from there. (My husband sees a post it note wall on my side of the bed with all my notes for a book idea I have…One I started 3 years ago put it aside until November of last year…when I was encouraged to go back to it… and who knows, I am almost done with one and working on another since it is taking me into a series of a couple of books.)

    ((hugs)) Don’t let fear rule you. You can do most anything you can put your mind to. Be encouraged. Find another author friend you can bounce ideas around with and who knows, your next book might pop into mind when you least expect it.

    • Becky–I’m so sorry about your mortgage situation and your dog. Most of my current mess is because of a house that is falling apart(that I’ve already sunk my life savings into) that I can’t sell that is trapping me in this area with poor job prospects. Ironically, having to relocate would mean having to leave my BF behind, as he is tied to this area as well. So there are some perks to the ties that bind. πŸ˜‰

      I tell people all the time to keep their pets as long as they are happy and comfortable–that they will tell you when it is time to go, not me. You’ve obviously taken wonderful care of her all these years–13 going on 14 is remarkable for a boxer! Enjoy her as long as she wants to be here. *hugs*

      Fortunately I have story ideas lined up around the block. It’s finding the time and energy to write when I’m so down that’s the struggle. I’ve learned that if I let more than a couple of days go by without making the attempt to write something, it is ten times harder for me to start again, and the more days that go by, the worse it gets. I’m going to try to hold myself to a goal of 1000 words a day. On a good day, I can easily do 3-5K, so this is more about keeping the machinery oiled than holding myself to an impossible task. But you’re so right about the story idea that sometimes has to sit on hold for years–apparently George RR Martin wrote a scene about a girl with a white wolf and had no idea what to do with it. He put it in a drawer for 10 years and it eventually became Game of Thrones. πŸ™‚

      I am trying hard not to let fear rule me any longer. It’s been the dominant emotion for most of my life, and now it looks like I’m headed for the rocks, I’m just going to have to learn how to let go of that, too. Thank you so much for the hugs and support. I appreciate it more than you could ever know.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

  8. “Permission To Fail”

    I love this, and realize this is what I did sort of did in 2001. But I’d beaten myself up over it ever since. No money to eat out every day, living paycheck to paycheck, debt that will only be paid off when my Dad dies, so I hope to never pay it off, refusing to marry an alcoholic just to be not alone, etc.

    This entry reminds me that in 2001, my entire family believed I was going to have a breakdown of serious proportions. Instead, I, out of the blue, took a new job I was thoroughly incapable of doing. I was hired on the sole fact I was professional-looking, eloquent (Boss not only graduated Northwestern, her husband did also), and had a good resume’. It was 3.5 days a week, and paid over 1/3 less, and I had credit card debt over $20,000, plus a mortgage.

    It was extremely fucking hard the first few years, but the sheer relief the change of pace made it worth it. A ll these years later, I have thousands of dollars in debt, even though I paid off the CC debt. Now, it’s medical bills. But, I have my sanity, my depression is under control, my boss is awesome, and I love my job.

    Will I ever pay off my debts? When Dad dies, I guess, but if not, I have no children who will have to pay for my mistakes, and poor health. My job now pays for my expenses, but I still live paycheck to paycheck. BUT, I love my life at this point. Do I wish I had a boyfriend? Yes, but I don’t. Do I wish I had more money? Yes, but I don’t. Etc., etc., etc.

    The emotional and mental health I experience now is worth those sacrifices. I am owned by an insane Bengal and cocky Russian Blue, two breeds I always wanted to own. Both were free. I’m hoping to buy tickets to a live WTNV show tomorrow. It will be one of the few indulgences for the year for me, if I manage to score one.

    Your emotional, mental and physical health are worth what you’re doing. Things will improve, even when you spend nights pissed that you’re crying into your pillow.

    Also, regarding the writing, it took me over a year after the stress was off to regain my imagination and drive. Both your mind and body need to heal from what they suffered.

    Wishing you all the best (and wishing your BF had a brother in WI πŸ˜‰ )

    • The medical bills are a big part of my problem too. Paying off everything else had to take a backseat to that for many years. I finally got the big medical bill paid off, but others just keep rolling in. I think most of the people I know are one medical crisis away from total bankruptcy.

      I’d like to believe I’m making the right choices here. It feels more like I have no choices at all. But I’m trying to let go of the resentment and the anger that comes from having to live with the decisions I made and move on.

      I am owned by an insane Bengal and cocky Russian Blue, two breeds I always wanted to own.

      That made me smile! Also the wish for a WI brother to my BF. That would be tough, I think he’s one of a kind. πŸ™‚ I’m very lucky too have him in my life. He has offered many times to help me out with the finances but I won’t let him. My hole, I need to get out of it myself.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Permission to FailMy Profile

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