When I was driving home from North Carolina, I decided to check out an audiobook from the library. I’d been wanting to read Brene’ Brown’s new book “Rising Strong”, and, to my surprise, it was available. I read – hungrily – her latest research and insight on how to rise strong after failure.
I’m usually not a fan of the “pull up your bootstraps” philosophy. I recoil a little when people don’t take time to feel the loss and pain that they suffer whenever life deals them a loss. I was afraid this would be another inspirational speaker lending to that philosophy. I should have known with her emphasis on vulnerability that she would cringe at the same lack of attention to the feelings incurred during loss. She calls our tendency to gloss over the bad part of failure “gold-plating grit”. She mentioned that when speakers tell their stories of failure, they have a tendency to take about 30 seconds to gloss over the hard part before sharing the glorious journey to success. She wrote “Rising Strong” in order to explore that moment in time when we are face down in the dirt “marred by dust and sweat and blood” (Theodore Roosevelt). She says if we miss that part, we miss the meatiest part of learning about ourselves.
I had no idea that I’d be faced with my own need to “rise strong” when I came back from vacation. But I certainly knew there would be more opportunities in my life where I could use this information. What one of us has not had our face buried in the dirt of failure? Who has not lost a loved one or suffered a broken heart? Which one of you has never made a mistake where the wash of shame cloaks you in its dark, paralyzing shroud? We all need to know how to rise strong…. because we all fall.
I’ve often heard that if you haven’t make any mistakes lately, you haven’t been working hard enough. There is a movement to use failure as a way of learning in innovative workplaces. I remember when the worker who failed would be fired quietly and ushered away in a buried organizational announcement saying they were “seeking better opportunities.” Smart companies have figured out that when they don’t understand their failures, they lose very valuable information that helps them move forward in leaps and bounds. Innovation, it seems, has deep roots in failure. I would think that would apply to individuals as well.
Brown says we have a Bad Assery Deficit. Our tendency to ignore that moment when we are face down in the dirt signifies emotional cowardice. We want to get up and gloss over that when we tell the story of our return to glory. Why should we spend any time looking at how we feel in that moment? That moment when shame and self-doubt are often hanging over us like a paralyzing cloak? Those messages of shame and self-doubt give us pointed clues about where we’ve been hurt and our inadequacies. It is in that space that our buttons have names, and our inner critic has a crystal clear voice. It is that precise information which will lead us to healing long-term and in changing our perspective in profound ways. In other words, that is the space in which we grow.
I’m an extrovert, and I process feelings by talking about them. So, when I’m face-down in the dirt, I will pick up the phone and call those on my short list that know how to help me process that painful moment. I learned a long time ago that ignoring those feelings of shame and self-doubt and embarrassment prolonged and interrupted the healing time. They don’t go away. They hang around and start to influence my behavior and relationships in an unwanted way. By having some safe friends who are not spooked by that face-down moment and those dark feelings, I can walk through them and learn much more about myself. I find it infinitely interesting. And I find it such an honor to hold space for others in that way. Intimacy … that’s intimacy in a nutshell.
I’m listening to “Rising Strong” again. I wasn’t able to take notes while I was driving. She outlines a process which includes writing your story and exploring your failures in that face-down moment and using the information to “rise strong”. I know the power of storytelling… and she applies her scientific research and insights to her own stories of failure and hurt. It’s a beautiful thing to read.