Humans fail constantly. We fail to eat enough vegetables a day, we fail to drink our body’s weight in water daily (in ounces, y’all, so go refill that water bottle), we fail to contribute to our 401ks at the proper percentage to reach retirement before the age of death, we have affairs and fail our partners, we ignore our children at the end of a busy day and fail to help them navigate the serious business that is growing up— we fail, sometimes causing irrevocable damage.
Our failures are based on choices. The choices we make from the time we wake to the time we close our eyes to sleep all impact our ability to fail. The average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a single day! That number alone makes me want to shut down and never make another decision. What happens when we inevitably reach decision-making exhaustion? We start to make bad choices, and we start to fail.
Are we healthy, mentally strong people with good moral character who can consistently make the right 35,000 choices each day? I don’t know about you, but I can’t. I try, every day, to make the right choices, and I fail at least 20 times a day. Sometimes I fail out of ignorance, sometimes I fail because I’m tired of making decisions and I chose to act without thinking, and sometimes I fail out of pure laziness. Because trying to make the right decision all of the time is mentally exhausting! And because sometimes you can make all of the right decisions and STILL fail.
We know we fail as humans; there is a reason the self-help industry is worth $11 billion. Failure is toted as acceptable for anyone trying to succeed past their current state. Failure is expected. But failure is bigger than just “Oh, crap, I didn’t make the right decision. I’ll just try harder tomorrow.” Failure can ruin lives permanently; as an engineer, failure can cause astronomical loss of life and resources.
So what do you do when you reach a point in your self-reflection that reveals how often you fail? What happens when you look around and see how often you fail to make the right decision? Or what happens when you see how often you make the right decision and still fail?
Y’all, I don’t know the answer to those questions. I have reached a point in my life where I realize I fail more often than I succeed, and it is exhausting. Not only do I realize that I fail and judge myself pretty harshly, I have people telling me I am failing quite often. So during my inner turmoil of recognizing how much I’m failing, I am getting constant feedback of how I am failing from people in my life (bosses, coaches, family, friends, the jerk at the store who pointed out that I failed to bring the reusable bags in for my groceries).
No, this is not a plea for people to tell me how I am succeeding. It’s not a plea for people to send me positive messages. It’s not a plea for people to stop telling me what I’m failing to do correctly. It’s a frigging plea to myself to just STOP FAILING SO MUCH!
Is this what life is going to be like? A constant trudging through failures and screwups until I die? Am I going to be the engineer who fails and causes a plane to fall out of the sky? Am I going to be the mom who didn’t listen to her son telling her about someone who made him uncomfortable?
Am I going to be the friend who ignored a friend’s cry for help and woke up to the message that he hung himself in his garage? (That one happened so I can scratch it off of the list of concerns). Am I ever going to quit failing to strict press 75 pounds overhead? Am I going to keep failing on every single front with the 20+ failures I have a day?
Then I think about how much I’ve succeeded in the last few years. The progression of success has opened the door for my ability to fail more often. The more I succeed, the more I fail, and the more opportunities I have to fail. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know. This is a hard reality for me to accept. I want to succeed more often than I fail like any normal functioning adult. I want to be good at something and just always be good at it. Instead, I am stuck, as most people are, in a constant loop of needing to learn more, needing to be better, having to run faster, having to consistently make the right 35,000 decisions a day, maybe succeeding a bit, and then realizing it still wasn’t enough. I am reaching the end of one switchback to realize that I have four million more switchbacks on this mountain alone, and four million more mountains until I am over the mountain range.
But at least I’m climbing. Failure is consistent in any life worth living. So I’ll keep trudging. I’ll keep failing. And hopefully I’ll cross this mountain range called life with few moral and physical casualties (and maybe even occasionally a success!).
Then I’ll die of dysentery. #oregontrailreference