“Whatever the experience, failure feels like a lost opportunity, like something that can’t be done or undone. Regardless of the context or magnitude, failure brings with it the sense that we’ve lost some of our personal power…the type of power I’m talking about is more in line with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of it: the ability to achieve our purpose and to effect change.” -Brene Brown, Rising Strong.
I finished reading Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, this morning and realized that I have been grieving over the past three months. Her decade of research on shame and vulnerability have been an excellent cross-reference for my decade of past and current experiences reckoning and rumbling with complex emotions in highly uncertain situations.
According to Brown, grief has three fundamental elements:
- Loss: “the loss of normality, the loss of what could be, the loss of what we thought we knew or understood about something or someone.” I lost the routine of meeting with my tribe, as I have done every other weekend for the past two years. We were more than like-minded individuals coming together in support of our endeavors. We had found solidarity in the journey and there was an open understanding that we were in this together. I also lost my capstone project, an effort I had spent more than a year studying, experimenting, designing and developing. It was a project I believed in whole-heartedly. In this way, careers can be like relationships. You will end up broken-hearted. I lost trust. I lost my future life in Baltimore with friends I thought I would be spending more time with; restaurants and bars and social sports leagues I thought I would partake in. I lost an apartment I would have enjoyed living in. I also lost a lot of money.
- Longing: “an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for understanding, for meaning, for the opportunity to regain or even simply touch what we’ve lost.” It is part of my DNA to be a part of something greater than myself. It’s the reason I love my family and the reason I love teams and organizations. Having lost this component of my life, I was without a definitive home, a team, a tribe, and a city. I had lost my sense of community, and the slow-drip days of spending time with friends and co-workers in the one that I did have was numbered. I wanted to enjoy these moments, not worry them away. I wept. I cried like hell. I kept my sunglasses on so I could shed tears in public. Took long showers to pretend I wasn’t crying. I kept a lot of napkins and was quiet in my cubicle.
- Feeling Lost: “feeling frozen–not knowing what to do, what to say, or how to behave.” Each passing day represented a point of no return, and this hurt. It hurts to know that your future is not where you thought it was, and it hurts to know that your real future has yet to arrive. For the summer months, I remained paralyzed on the couch watching Bravo or HGTV or the occasional sub-par movie. My only vice, an alcoholic root beer every now and then. I didn’t write. I didn’t exercise. And it was a rare occasion if you got me to leave my messy apartment for dinner or drinks. I slept a lot. I ate ice cream. I got a sinus infection and couldn’t think. I got bronchitis and couldn’t breathe. I ate more ice cream. And took antibiotics. I sat in stupor and rumbled the numbness out of my emotions. I now know that even if you can’t personally feel these things as you go through them, this is what pain looks like.
I have also been experiencing despair, a definition that comes from Rob Bell: “It’s a spiritual condition. It’s the belief that tomorrow will be just like today.” It typically arrives after failure occurs, and the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve’s zero in on every moment of self-reflection. Moving out of despair, requires hope. And hope, according to Brown, is a function of struggle. It puts a profound value on grit and moxie.
There is no such thing as “Lean in, but don’t fall.” The whole point of leaning in is risking what you put on the table, and I was all-in. Whole-heartedly. I risked everything. And I failed. And I grieved. But I also failed forward.