Dear lovely ones,
Sometimes, we desperately want to do something well and we fail horribly.
Has that ever happened to you?
I began thinking of my own stories of failure as I listened to the “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast on my morning walk.
In the episode “Unexpected Joy: How do we redefine success so we can find joy?” (here), Abby Wambach tells the story of failing horribly at a speaking event. She had properly prepared herself for a Times Up speaking event. However, the night before, her wife Glennon Doyle met all the women activists who would be at the event; her wife then began to worry about the event on Wambach’s behalf . This one is important, Doyle emphasized. To help Wambach out, Doyle wrote out what she thought Wambach should say. In contrast, Wambach says mesmerizing things gives her anxiety. She speaks best off the cuff. However, being a newlywed at the time, Wambach went along with her wife’s suggestions to please her. At the event, Wambach blanked out on what to say. Doyle’s printed suggestions burned in her pocket. Anxiously, Wambach took them out and began reading them. She said it was one of the worst speaking events that she has ever done.
It comforted me to hear Abby Wambach’s story. I have certainly failed horribly at things in my life. When I was in seminary, a local pastor invited me to preach at their church. Still new to the field, I had no sense of how my word count corresponded to sermon length. I wrote 12 double spaced pages. I did not practice ahead of time. At the church, my sermon ended up being 40-45 minutes long. It was not a particularly good sermon. I put odds and ends together like a collection you would find at a garage sale. People literally got up and left, because my sermon went on so long. I got feedback afterward that I dropped the end of my sentences and did not have good breath work throughout it, so people had a hard time hearing me. It was a terrible sermon and I took that failure very personally.
At that time of my life, I had not done my art of preaching enough to know that sometimes my art would be good, and sometimes it wouldn’t. The quality of one sermon does not define me as a preacher or a pastor. There is more to consider – the relationship with my people, the overall arch of the worship service, and the care with which I offer my gift.
Like Wambach, I have learned that relying more on my inner self, and less on pleasing, has ultimately helped me to connect to people through my art forms. That said, there is a place for learning excellent technique. In my art, there’s a balance between building base knowledge and relinquishing pressure so I can connect with my deeper self.
Nothing will ever be perfect. I cannot control my way to perfection in any area of my life. However, when it comes to offering live art, I can prepare well; I can control my response to live mishaps; I can offer my gifts with a spirit of service.
I remember what I learned in my improv comedy classes. My teachers taught me that mistakes are gifts. In improv comedy, if a performer riffs off a mistake, it often becomes the funniest part of the scene.
Mistakes are gifts. Likewise, I am learning to take the curveballs of a live experience and turn them into gifts too. This Sunday, as a technology glitch caused a short delay, I quipped that it was a great opportunity to practice the Advent* art of waiting because we all need more practice waiting. The joke got a laugh. Rather than separate us, the glitch suddenly became a moment of communion, because we could all relate to how hard it is to wait.
As I age, I look forward to practicing my sense of good humor, because in the end, whether we fail or succeed, what matters most is that we connect, heart to heart.
We are here to give and receive the gift we desire most: love.
That’s the gift that makes me realize that I haven’t failed at all.
To fail is to keep my heart locked away.
To succeed is to be human together with love, with humor, with grace, with courage.
When we do that, we realize that we have been around loved ones all along.
For there are no strangers among us.
Do you have a story about failing terribly? Email it to me at joy (dot) perkett (at) gmail (dot) com . I will love your humanity the whole way through the story.
Yours on the journey,
*In the Christian liturgical calendar, it is currently the season of Advent. Advent is the season before Christmas. Advent emphasizes waiting and preparation as one prepares one’s inner life for radical change.