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You’ve Failed. What Now?

When I got home from work one night last week, my husband grinned at me. Instead of the routine question about dinner, he promptly asked, “Anything in my hand?”

“No.”

“Nothing up my sleeve?” (He’s always trying to be amusing…)

“No, why?” (I was beginning to lose patience at this point…)

Then he pulled the dry cleaning clip off my right shoulder. And my left shoulder. You know, the little white things that keep your shirt on the hanger?

I’d obviously been flaunting them all day.

A few decades ago, that might have set me into a spin.

I did wonder if my patients had all thought I was a little kooky. Or absent-minded maybe. But no one said anything.

The incident got me thinking about confidence – the kind of confidence that comes from accepting your flaws, or not being ashamed of making mistakes. Had I really managed to acquire it? Could I walk around with dry cleaning tags dangling from my shirt and be okay?

I’m not positive. But other than remembering important dates and times, which isn’t so hot if you forget, I’m not too busy any more trying to prove I’m right about things — or that I’m all put together.

Dealing with the shame of failure.

Years ago, I wanted to hear a man speak at a national therapy conference. I’d bought a recording since I couldn’t be at the conference itself.  As I tossed in the cassette to listen (I told you it was years ago…), I heard his introduction, and impatiently waited — he had written a lot of books so his intro was long and quite impressive.

These were his first, very simple words. “What I have to offer today is not based on my successes, but on my failures.”

I immediately was riveted to what he had to say, and listened for the next hour or so with rapt attention. I don’t remember the new therapeutic process that he’d created or what all those books were about. But I’ve always remembered his humility and honesty.

My gut knew he was right. I was the same. Some of the most important things I’d learned as a person, as a therapist, as a mom, wife and daughter, as a woman — I’d learned from falling down. Failing. Trying and not succeeding. Or not trying at all. Giving up. Giving in. Rationalizing. Discounting.

Those weren’t proud moments by any means. But taking the time to analyze and try to understand what was behind failure — not seeing something that was underneath the surface or ignoring what was right in front of my face… combing through those behaviors, thoughts and actions was what helped me grow. I could succeed all day long. But I didn’t learn as much as when I struggled — when I had to push through some barrier or some block.

Where did I go wrong? What didn’t I get? What had made me choose the path that I’d taken? What did I need to learn?

Perhaps one of the scariest things about being a parent is knowing that your mistakes, your flaws, are going to affect or challenge your kids. They’ll be the beneficiaries of your strengths. They may even inherit some of them, and you can silently smile when you see them grow and learn.

But you’ll see the effect of your mistakes, or your vulnerabilities as well. And that’s hard.

As a therapist, I see people every week who’ll refer to something they’ve done or said — something that’s causing them to struggle with shame or self-doubt. “I’m the person I used to judge… I’ve done the same thing that I said I’d never do.”  Maybe they’ve hurt others. Maybe they’ve hurt mostly themselves.

It’s integrity that makes you care about your mistakes. It’s humility that helps you admit them.

And it’s courage that guides you to make the perhaps hard changes needed.

Click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret! It’s perfect for engagements, anniversaries, weddings, or for the person you love!

You can hear more this and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Dr. Margaret Rutherford has been in practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas for over 20 years. She began blogging in 2012 with the website “NestAche”, and following with http://DrMargaretRutherford.com in April 2014. Her work can be found here on Midlife Boulevard, as well as the Huffington Post, Boomeon, WeWantMore, BetterAfter50 and Arkansas Women Bloggers.