Tag Archives: failure

Settling for…?

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“I’ve always believed the greater danger is not aiming too high, but too low, settling for a bogey rather than shooting for an eagle.” –Peter Scott

I have thought a lot about the idea of settling lately.  Like nearly everything in life, there are two sides to the argument, multiple perspectives to the idea.  Settling can be bad and good, life and death, enough or disappointment.

I watched an episode of the Bonnie Hunt Show where the staff was discussing the book Marry Him!: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Mary Gottlieb.  I have not read it myself, but the jist seems to be that we have so many little hang ups, such high expectations and dreams about the man we will love, that we miss amazing people.  We imagine that our husband will be tall and Catholic so we do not give the short Baptist a chance.  With all of these trivial criteria, we let wonderful people slip by us.  To settle is to be realistic, to accept the flaws and see what really matters.  It’s learning to throw out preconceptions and plans and be open to finding love where we might not have imagined.  Perfection is overrated.  We are told to settle for nothing but the best.  Why eat Hershey when Godiva is available?  We spend our lives trying to be the best, be first, be perfect, and miss so much along the way.  Life is messy and we need to be willing to settle for something different, something we never expected.  We need to see that “good enough” really is enough, is fulfilling and satisfying. 

Then the flip side is that “good enough” is not “good,” let alone “great.”  It is not what we truly want, it’s what we can get.  Settling is selling our dreams, our plans, ourselves short.  We fear that something better will come, that we deserve more, that we’re tapping out before the fight is over.  It’s the tension that drives the mediocre Deal or No Deal game show.  Do you push on?  Are you being offered enough?  Is there something better waiting to be discovered?

I’m flailing somewhere in the middle of these two points.  I am settling left and right in my life.  I have begun to try harder to get a new job, but for three years, a job I hate has been enough.  Times are hard and a paycheck was worth settling for.  I feel unchallenged and degraded, but I’ve begun to feel like there is not much else for me.  I used to dream big, hope high.  I’ve come to question why I think I’m better than this, what makes me so sure that I deserve more.  I have thought momentarily about pursuing a credential to teach.  I love children and language, but I can’t bring myself to become a teacher.  Since I was young, I’ve been told I would be a great teacher.  I studied English, so every person I meet asks if I plan to teach.  I feel an anxiety attack come on when I think about teaching not because I don’t think I’d like it, but because it feels like settling.  I feel cornered, pigeon-holed before I could choose.  I don’t want to settle, but I have been for years. 

I think about relationships.  Do you hold out for the one who is perfect, the one who might be out there?  Or do you settle for someone good and kind, someone who is willing to settle for you?  Even in my friendships I settle.  I hang out with friends from work because my other friends have moved away.  I do what they want just to not be alone.  And it all feels worth it, to not be alone.  But they are not people I would choose for friends, if I could afford to choose.  They don’t challenge me, support me, bring me joy, but I settle for them because they are here, willing.  Sometimes it’s enough, and for that I am grateful.  Sometimes it’s not enough, and for that I feel all the more lonely.

So what do you do?  What do I do?  Do you take “good enough” and enjoy what you have?  There is something to be said for enough, for adequate, for average.  Friends are better than no one.  A crappy job is better than unemployment.  Or do you refuse to settle?  Do you decide that you earn, need, deserve, want more?  Do you refuse to settle for something less, demanding the best?  Do you fight and work for what you want, risk not achieving it, for the chance that you will?  I don’t know.  I have no answers here.  I just feel like across the board, I have settled for a lot in the past three years.  Some days it feels okay, like I expected too much and enough really is enough.  Other days, I am overwhelmed with fear that I have settled too often and missed my chances to try.  It’s two sides of the same coin.  Maybe it depends on the situation, the thing you are settling for, and how much you are willing to sacrifice.  Maybe it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice, so you can stand to put away the dreams.  Or maybe it’s too big, too important to accept less than you want.  How do you tell?  And how do you cope when “good enough,” isn’t?   

“There’s something to be said about a glass half full. About knowing when to say when. I think it’s a floating line. A barometer of need and desire. It’s entirely up to the individual. And depends on what’s being poured. Sometimes all we want is a taste…” –Grey’s Anatomy  

In a Past Life…

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“Sometimes someone says something really small and it just fits into this empty place in your heart.”My So-Called Life

Yesterday I saw my high school Algebra teacher.  He was accompanied by his wife, who also worked at my high school as a counselor and vice principal.  This would be unremarkable if I were in my home town, but I was at work 600 miles from home.  I second-guessed myself when I fist saw him, but his wife was unmistakable.  I wanted to find a reason to speak to them, knowing that a decade after I took his class he would have no reason to remember me, but was busy with customers. 

My mood lifted when I saw them, a piece of home where I never expected it.  Finally I approached his wife and introduced myself.  She was never my counselor, so she also had no reason to recognize me.  When I told her my name she smiled and said that she remembered it from my time at the school.  While this may have been polite courtesy, she then asked who my parents were and nodded as I named them, making connections in her head.  Finally, she asked I attended the elementary school that, in fact, I did attend.  She laughed and said that she knew me through my sixth grade teacher, her close friend and walking partner.

This whole interaction left me glowing.  A woman who had no business knowing me and, in fact, did not know me, somehow knew who I was.  She remembered my name, my history, my people.  She could have feigned recognition, but she knew me through a teacher that I loved.  There was a time in my life when I was someone people knew.  I was involved, a leader, someone who stood out.  For twenty-two years, I was noteworthy.  I’ve spent the past three years being reminded how unimportant, unremarkable, insignificant I am.  I am surrounded by people who do not know my name, even when I am wearing a name tag.  I have come to have a hard time discerning which me is the real me, which is the fraud. 

Tonight I spent time with some friends from college.  I met many of their new friends, most of whom are pursuing post-graduate degrees or are working in fulfilling “real” jobs.  I felt out of place, embarrassed whenever I was asked what I do.  At the same time, I talked with new people, asked about their lives, was engaging and enjoyed getting to know them.  In a moment of clarity, I saw the me that used to be confident, personable and social.  I saw the person I used to be, that person that relative strangers knew.  Inadequacy quickly took over and I was ready to hide in my anonymity soon enough, but for a few minutes, the old me surfaced. 

On the way home, my friend played a “sweet” song for me.  Not being a fan of country music, I was biased and not incredibly inclined to listen, but I gave it a shot.  My polite patience turned into almost immediate tears.  The song was “The House That Built Me,” about going back to your roots when you’re lost.  It’s about revisiting a childhood house, but it’s so much more.  It’s finding the place that created the person you are, the world that bore you.  Finding that origin, that point of creation, might bring back the person we’ve lost. 

While there is a powerful healing that comes from visiting my house, home is much more.  Home is seeing the friends who knew me when I worked hard, achieved high and led my peers.  Home is seeing my parents, getting notes from them in the mail.  It’s seeing someone who knew you by reputation, who remembers you a decade later, and gently reminds you that you are someone worth seeing. 

I was someone important, someone impressive.  I do not say this arrogantly or lightly.  I say this because I was reminded, by a piece of home, of who I used to be in my past life.  I say this because I hope, deep inside, I still am. 

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/ This brokenness inside me might start healing/ Out here it’s like I’m someone else/ I thought that maybe I could find myself…”  –Miranda Lambert, “The House That Built Me”

“Survived the madman’s dream…”

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“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

I cannot place the beginning of my fascination, for lack of a better word, but I am captivated by stories of the Holocaust.  I understand that this is a somewhat disturbing statement that, at best, requires a caveat, but it’s nearly impossible for me not to read an article or watch a show that I stumble upon about the subject.  There are two things that simply boggle my mind with respect to the horror. 

The first, and perhaps greatest thing that intrigues me is that is happened, plain and simple.  I was chilled the first time I watched footage of the infamous Milgram experiments to show the power of authority and peer pressure.  (For a rundown, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment.)  I know, that on a much more mundane and miniscule scale I have gone along with my peers and failed to question authorities that I may not agree with.  I can see how good, honest men and women were swept up in the Nazi movement– to an extent.  There comes a point, however, that I like to believe my humanity would kick in.  I think that I would draw a line and stop my obedience before it got too far, if I were involved.  But I cannot say this for sure.  There is such an unimaginable darkness to the actions of Nazi soldiers, but there is a part of me that really can comprehend how it got so out of control.  Especially when it came to protecting their lives.  This does not make the whole reality of the hell that developed any less astounding.  And it happened fifty years ago.  Not centuries past, in barbaric times.  My Grandmothers were alive to see these days.  This is what I cannot wrap my mind around. 

“The children of Israel survived the madman’s dream…”

In honor of those lost, on behalf of those who live on. That we may never forget, and never allow this again.

The second thing that simply astounds me with respect to the Holocaust are the superhuman acts of bravery that took place.  The amount of hope and determination and strength that it took to endure the torture is beyond what any human could be expected to muster.  People are simply amazing.  Stories of survivors, stories of those who protected, stories of those who remember.  It is so inspiring.  That is the paradox of the Holocaust: it was literally the darkest period of human interaction, and the most glorious.  People slaughtered others with indifference at best, hatred at worst.  And people survived hell, proving that “The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it  (C.C. Scott).”

My interest has not extended to everything on the subject.  In fact, there are many great stories and accounts that I have not yet encountered.  However, I would highly recommend the following films, simply for the inspiration they have given me: Everything Is Illuminated (based on the acclaimed novel), Life Is Beautiful (who wouldn’t recommend this one?), Paperclips (a moving documentary about children learning about the Holocaust), Forgiving Dr. Mengele (an unbelievable documentary on a survivor’s decision to live a life of forgiveness) and The Children of Chabannes (about schools smuggling children to safety).  There are so many others, more than I have seen, but these are phenomenal and I highly recommend them. 

I know that there was not a whole lot of reflection or insight in this entry.  It was not poetic or eloquent.  But after visiting the memorial this weekend,  this is on my mind, my heart, so here it is.

“I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. Like you say, inside out. Jonathan, in this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.”  —Everything Is Illuminated

Failure

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“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”  –F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Failure sometimes enlarges the spirit.  You have to fall back upon humanity and God.” –Charles Horton Cooley

 

It would be kind to say I am a little disappointed with myself for not writing this weekend.  I could excuse it away with the fact that I have not been sleeping well, so I spent the time resting.  Or I could rest easy in the fact that my trusty lap top is dying a slow death and it can take a big chunk out of my night just to get it up and going.  But, my reality is, I just didn’t write.  I failed. 

I did hedge this little venture by saying that I wanted to write and reflect almostevery day, but giving myself that out was weak.  In fact, I haven’t been very true to what I wanted to write yet, and I’m not now.  I want to write creatively again, to work at poetry, perhaps some prose, and regain the small bits of talent or discipline or whatever it is that creates something good.  That is not to say that what I have written in the past is “good,” but I have my moments.  I want to really try to write again.  If I’m not being creative, I at least want to reflect on things that go a little deeper.

That being said, I”m going to talk about tv.  Tonight I watched the season premiere of House and was incredibly touched by a moment that you could see coming a mile away.  A woman had been mute for years, vacantly staring and simply not “there.”  There was a moment when she was handed the music box that had been taken from her.  She instantly returned to herself, she spoke and connected.  The next time she was shown, she was playing the cello beautifully, her passion.  It gave me hope.  Yes, this attempt at writing has been less than stellar.  Yes, I failed and didn’t write this weekend.  Yes, this is not eloquent or interesting or profound.  Yes, I am still mute, lost somewhere inside.

Someday I’ll find my music box.  Someday I’ll come back to me fully, I’ll write and be happy and alive like I used to be.  It might take time and it might get discouraging.  But this will not last.  I’ll find my passion and skill again.  I’ll connect and use the voice I’ve lost.  It will happen.  Until then, as discouraged as I get, as bad as this is, as lost as I can feel, I just need to be more forgiving of my failures.