“Look where you want to go,” I often say to my coaching clients. “Without looking at what you want, you won’t recognize it when it’s in front of you.” Sometimes I even say, “Unless you have a dream and know what it looks like, you can’t create it.”
And yet, as a coach, I think that failure can be important to self-reflection, discovery and change. We can learn from failure. The important thing we can learn is “What gets in my way?” Is it poor planning? Is it fear? Is it a feeling of “not enough”? What gets in our way in one part of our life that repeats. And repeating is not something we are easy with.
From childhood on, we are trained to be fixers. To get rid of bad habits, bad friends, bad ideas. “Just say No!” we are told. And fixing isn’t enough. We also have to make mistakes only once. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Make the same mistake twice at work, and we hear, “I’ve warned you about this before.’ We not only have to develop excellent memories, but perfect behavior. And that’s why we hate what gets in the way.
Because we are so afraid of repeating our faults, we do three things when we hit what gets in the way:
1. We deny it. My cats, getting older, and having fallen in the pool several times while chasing birds, now pretend they don’t see them. Yesterday a dove waddled five feet in front of my biggest bird-chaser. He turned his head and closed his eyes. See no evil. We do the same thing. By denying what gets in the way, we don’t have to risk falling into the shame pool if we don’t get it right.
2. Run the other way. If we don’t stumble across the things that get in our way, well the, we aren’t tripped up by them. Except navigating routes around our faults make the route longer and more circuitous and doesn’t teach us much except how to avoid and how to run. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, we don’t like to think we didn’t fix that problem.
3. We take an action once and claim the victory. The next time we run across the same problem, we are shocked and appalled. “That was supposed to be fixed!” we fume, and drop back into the shame pit.
That definition is what makes it so important to know what gets in our way as we work toward a satisfying life. Most of our mistakes don’t go away, and we gain courage when we notice what gets in the way and wrestle with it. Pema Chodron reminds us that we will face the same problems and character flaws over and over again in our life. The first time I heard her say that, I broke into tears of relief.
What gets in our way is the thing that needs attention. Not once, but every day. It is facing it every day, making choices about how to handle what gets in our way, that makes us courageous, strong and . . .awake to our lives.
–-Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and art journaler who teaches what she knows.