Tag Archives: failure

Into the Wild

“We’re supposed to be different. Thank goodness.”

I posted these words on my Facebook page yesterday evening along with a quote from Susan Cain’s insightful book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

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In Quiet, Cain explores the differences between introverts and extroverts. In a society that seems to reward the confidence, charm and exuberant energy of extroversion, introverts often feel the need to step up, speak out and pick up the pace just so they too can succeed at life.

In the questionnaire at the beginning of the book, I scored a whopping 18 out of 20. This signifies that I’m more of an introvert. It means that I enjoy my own company. I need space and time alone. I recharge by spending evenings in with a book or a movie. I get energy from walks in nature and lying in the sun. And I like to sit in stillness and reflect on my feelings and the meaning of life.

I’m a thinker and a writer. And I’m sensitive. Sensitive to beauty, music and wonderfully worded pieces of prose. I’m sensitive to energy, people’s moods and violence on the television.

I feel deeply. I get depressed. An act of kindness can bring me to tears. I marvel at the many miracles of the universe. Spirituality is more important to me than material things. I’m passionate about life. But at times I feel like I’m drowning in it.

When I feel intimidated, I shut up. It can take me a while to feel comfortable around new people. On nights out, I’d rather not compete with the loud music and the din of chatty pub-goers. So I don’t. My voice just doesn’t seem to carry. If someone really wants to hear what I have to say, we have to lean in to one another.

However, when I’ve had a drink, none of that matters. Cain likens an alcoholic beverage to a glass of extroversion.

Most people aren’t exclusively introverts or extroverts. I love being around people and I lead a fairly busy social life. I enjoy meeting friends and trying out new hobbies but I much prefer participating in deep conversations with one or two people rather than chatting in large groups.

I recognise the benefits of team playing and brainstorming but I work best alone in a quiet room where I can retreat, silence my phone, and concentrate.

When something is bothering me, I tend to write, meditate, read and think. Then I discuss my problems, one-to-one, with someone I trust.

I end romantic relationships if they’re not right. I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t help me flourish.

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Last night, I watched Into the Wild for the second time. This true story is based on American adventurer Christopher McCandless. At twenty-four, Chris has fulfilled his parents’ dream of getting good grades and going to college. Then, instead of attending Harvard, he burns the remainder of his college fund, cuts up his social security and credit cards, and disappears, without a word, into the wild.

One of the reasons I love this film is because I feel it’s quite balanced in its storytelling. The different characters have different viewpoints, personalities and lifestyles.

We learn of Chris’ perspective on life. He resents the control and expectations of society and his parents. He wants to roam free. He needs to be independent and true to himself. He’s happiest when he’s diving into lakes, climbing mountains, and living off the land.

When he enters Los Angeles, he regards the skyscrapers and city-dwellers with an expression of disappointment and despair. We can almost see his soul dimming as he trudges through the metropolis. He imagines how his life could have been and he doesn’t regret his decision to break away. He can’t even stay one night there.

We also hear his sister’s version of events. She understands Chris’ reasons for abandoning the family. Her parents desperately desire a particular way of life for their son. Their intentions are good. This is the only way they know how to guide and protect him. But they’ve also caused their children a lot of pain. Ultimately, we watch them suffer too.

This movie really got me thinking. Was Chris acting selfishly? Was he foolish and naive? Or was he right to go on his own journey, to figure out his meaning of life, to really live and experience and come to his own conclusions?

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busaff.com

I’ve often felt different. I’ve struggled to fit in. I’ve felt stifled by society and I’ve agonised over the following:

What is being true to yourself? And what is running away? When do you stop living in the clouds and finally conform? When do you “settle down”?

Then there are the shoulds and norms of society. You should be responsible. That’s what being an adult is all about. You need a good job. You can’t live without money. You need your own home. When are you going to find a husband? Will you have enough time for children? For goodness’ sake, you won’t survive without a pension.

I got 525 points in my Leaving Certificate but secondary school may as well have been a battlefield for all the anxiety I experienced. I did well at swimming and athletics but competition didn’t sit well with me. I dropped out of college twice.

Truthfully, the only reason I went back to college as a mature student was because I felt I had to. How else would I become a functioning member of society?

I obtained a First Class Honours degree and received the Sunday World Cup for Best Student of Journalism with a Language. Though proud of my achievements and happy to gain approval from the people I care about, it added to the pressure I felt to do more with my life, to live up to my potential and to succeed.

And I don’t do well under pressure. So instead of applying for jobs in journalism, I threw myself into an alternative world of acupuncture, homeopathy, personal development and spirituality. And I’ve never been happier.

Of course, I still experience paralysing moments of fear. The voices in my head go something like this: What are you doing with your life? Grow up. Be normal.

So I tentatively move forwards with one eye clamped on everybody else in the world who’s doing things the “right” way. I compare, criticise and compete. I alter my behaviour and try to change who I am in the hope that I will prosper. I worry that I’m not adult enough for this big bad world of business and mortgages.

But what does “adult” mean? How “should” a 34-year-old woman live? Why must we all melt into one right way of doing things? We’re not all the same. That much is very clear.

Yes, there’s a reason why most of us follow the well-trodden path in life. There’s safety and security in the tried and tested route. Most people want to see life’s landmarks so they know where they are and what to expect around the corner.

But some of us thrive on change. The unknown excites us. Newness is revitalising. It’s what keeps that spark inside of us alight.

It’s a relief to realise that we don’t have to be the same as one another. We don’t have to compete because we each have unique gifts to bring to the world.

There’s no point trying to do things his way or attempting to be as good as her because you’re not them. You’re you.

Some of us want to climb the career and property ladders all the way to the top. And some of us are quite happy to keep our feet on the ground.

Whether we’re commuting to our permanent jobs, bringing our children to school or backpacking across the globe, we can be fully alive and true to the essence of who we really are.

Whether we’re writing fantasy novels, saving lives, cleaning the streets or designing websites, we can be the people we’re meant to be.

Whether we’re introverted or extroverted or a dollop of one and two tablespoons of the other, we are unique and perfect just as we are.

We’re different and brilliant in our all of our shade and all of our colour. We blend and we clash and we all come together in this stunning masterpiece of humanity.

We may think we know who we are. We stamp ourselves with neat and convenient labels so we can understand and make sense of the world around us. But life changes. We change. We grow and develop and we dip in and out of lots of different attributes and characteristics. Every colour of the rainbow is available to us to try on and see what suits us best.

And whether we’re paying into our pensions or collecting the dole, none of us can really know what to expect next. Nothing is certain.

The weather is unpredictable. And the terrain is constantly changing. We may want to know the exact directions to a predetermined destination. But we are all, in fact, walking into the unknown. We are all on a journey into the wild.

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The Fear

One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with over my lifetime is fear. Over the past few days, I’ve examined this fear and I’ve discovered that it has many, many layers.

There is fear of making mistakes. Fear of doing it wrong. Fear of failure. Fear of getting into trouble. Fear of criticism, disapproval and rejection. Fear of my own feelings. Even fear of happiness in case it were to disappear.

Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being talented enough, competent enough, confident enough, pretty enough, slim enough, and the list goes on…

Fear of losing hope. And fear of having hope because I’m bound to destroy it.

As I shower this morning, I realise what’s really lurking behind all this fear. It’s fear of being found out. Found out to be stupid, incapable, ugly, unlovable.

And so this fear has prevented me from going for jobs, moving abroad, writing a book, staying in relationships, opening up to friends, and telling people that I like them. In short, fear has stopped me from putting myself out there.

Once I make this discovery, I can logic it. What is it about stepping out that I’m so afraid of? That people will discover that I’m human? Scared? Imperfect?

Aren’t these the things that I love and admire in other people? Don’t we feel more connected with other human beings when we realise that we’re all the same? Real and brave and frightened?

If I can accept others for how they are, why do I resist doing the same for myself? Why are my standards and expectations for myself so ridiculously high? Is it because I don’t like myself enough or is it because I like myself so much that I want to be the best that I can be? Interesting because this desire is actually blocking me from doing just that.

Over the Christmas, I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Once I delved into the first chapter, I was hooked. Marianne speaks about being paralysed with terror. She writes:

“You’d think we have some compassion for ourselves, bound up in emotional chains the way we are, but we don’t. We’re just disgusted with ourselves, because we think we should be better by now. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.”

This really resonated with me. I forget that other people feel fear too. Everybody does. We just don’t hear about it all that much. We think that other people just get on with it. They do and they grow and they succeed.

And I compare myself unfavourably with the whole human race. I neglect to focus on my own courage and achievements, which are many.

I dismiss my own journey and instead listen to the family members and neighbours as they comment on So-and-so’s flourishing business and Thingymajig’s promotion and new home and Yer-one-down-the-road’s wonderful partner and family.

“They’re doing so well”, they gush. And I hate myself a little more. I see other people’s highlight reels on Facebook and I wince in self-judgement.

Last night, I lay in bed reading Oprah Winfrey’s lovely book What I Know For Sure when I had an Aha moment. Oprah speaks about her fear of seeming arrogant. She writes:

“In some ways, even my weight was my apology to the world – my way of saying, ‘See, I really don’t think I’m better than you.'”

When I was younger, I was teased for being “posh” and using big words. I was also teased for having a rather large bosom for a 13-year-old. And I was beaten up because a girl’s boyfriend fancied me.

After those experiences, I was careful with my language and I tried not to appear full of myself. I changed the way I behaved depending on the group of people I was with. I didn’t flirt. And I made sure not to do anything too different so that I could avoid unwanted attention.

When other people were miserable, I downplayed my contentment and instead broadcast my difficulties. You see, I’d say. I’m not a threat. So you can like me.

Now that I understand where all this fear comes from, I have a choice. I choose to no longer allow fear to immobilise me. I want to take risks and move forwards and flourish. And I understand that I do love myself. I’ve just been confused about how to show myself this love.

From now on, I’ll love myself when I have the courage to shine. I’ll love myself when I’m gasping with fear. I’ll love myself when I do. And I’ll love myself when I am.

The trick is to understand that we all feel fear. Our bravery lies in our ability to push forth anyway. In Oprah Winfrey’s words:

“Sometimes moving on terrified me. But it always taught me that the true meaning of courage is to be afraid, and then, with your knees knocking, to step out anyway.”

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If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

The other day, my friend told me she’s reading a book called If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. “What a great title,” I exclaimed.

My friend replied: “I know. It’s really good so far. It’s all about looking at what your boat represents and when you should and shouldn’t get out of it.” “Yeah,” I muse. “It’s so true. The boat is your comfort zone. You want to do amazing things but you have to challenge yourself in order to do them. It’s so easy to stay in the boat. It’s safe. But you could walk on water if you just got out!”

Last night, I was having a similar conversation with another friend. She spoke about how opportunities often come our way but we have to be open to receiving and accepting them. “That’s a good point,” I agreed. “We need to be open to receiving them and we have to have courage to accept the challenge.”

Right now, I’m feeling anxious about an upcoming event. I want to not be so nervous. I’ve done the preparation and I’m getting on with my day but my stomach still hosts a basket of butterflies.

Suddenly, the book title pops into my head and I realise that I’m lucky to have something like this to be nervous about. This is what it feels like to get out of my comfort zone. I’m open to opportunity. I’m saying yes and rising to the challenge. I should be proud of myself. And I know I’ll do well and I’ll be delighted that I’ve gone through with it.

From now on, I’m going to treasure that feeling I get when I step uncertainly out of the boat, unsure if I’ll get wet or make a fool of myself or even drown. Because this is what it feels like to be alive. This is what it means to say yes to life.

Falling

I am crossing a height on a narrow plank of wood. Half way over, I realise the danger. I become terrified. I lie on my belly, too afraid to move. The person I’m with steps over me and goes on. I inch my way around and crawl back to where I started. I reach for a railing so I can pull myself up but I’m petrified that it will break away and I’ll fall.

I awaken with a start. This is a common theme in my dreams. I’m often rock climbing when I suddenly notice how high I am. From that moment on, I cannot move for fear of falling. Even stretching my arm out to pull myself in any direction is too scary.

I’m obviously having these dreams for a reason. What message is my subconscious giving me? I believe I know the answer.

I am moving forwards in life. I am attempting new things, building a career, writing, making friends, exploring different places and I’m open to meeting somebody special. But every so often, I become scared. I’m afraid of falling, fearful of failing, terrified of getting too high and realising how high I’ve come.

This awareness is extremely interesting. Perhaps it will make me more conscious in my day-to-day life. I’ll see when I’m becoming too scared to move on, too petrified to reach higher, and so anxious that I crawl on my belly back to the start.

I’ll catch myself in those moments and I’ll reach higher anyway. I’ll climb forwards with a brave heart. I’ll allow the possibility of falling. And even if I do fall, who knows, I might just discover my wings and soar…

Hip Hip Hooray

I recently ended a romantic relationship. Afterwards, I admired my ex for how fully and openly he had given his heart. He had really loved me.

Today, I realise that he had been able to love me because I had opened myself up to that possibility.

I told him things I usually didn’t speak about for fear of rejection. I cried in front of him. I shared my fears and passions, quirks and insecurities. I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. I laid my face and body bare. I allowed myself be vulnerable. I opened myself up to love. I had to give myself credit for that.

Yesterday, as I drove across the country, I sang along to my iTunes library. My voice didn’t sound bad. I remembered that when I used to smoke, my voice had started to crack when I tried to sing. I give myself credit for giving up cigarettes. I haven’t had one in years. Yesterday, I sang for two and a half hours straight. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What can you give yourself credit for today? Of course, it’s easier to remember the obvious awards and qualifications and even easier to concentrate on the mistakes or so-called failures. But what about all the other stuff in between?

For me, it’s the fact that I’m now a proficient driver even though my terrified 19-year-old self never believed she’d be comfortable behind the wheel. Or how I started a blog when the guy I was seeing tried to kiss another girl. How, more than three years later, I’m totally over the guy (we’re actually friends now) and I still have the blog. How I set up Positive Living classes in my community. How my voice keeps going strong during a two and a half hour singathon. And how, after heartbreak and divorce, unrequited love and disappointment, I am even more open to giving and receiving love.

It’s so easy to berate ourselves. And so simple to congratulate and encourage others. But for some reason, we find it difficult to give ourselves credit for what we have achieved, for having tried and failed and tried again and learned from it, and tried yet again and succeeded.

We have survived decades here on this crazy planet. We have climbed, fallen, wounded ourselves, healed our hurts and gotten right back up again. And for that, we deserve to celebrate.

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Google Images

Twists and Turns

Last night, I dreamed that I was chatting with the band members of Kodaline (a talented Irish band). I learned that they had gone through tough times but are now doing very well for themselves and are currently number one in the Irish charts. I woke thinking about how what we perceive to be failures or catastrophes are, in the grand scheme of things, exactly what is meant to happen at that time in order to bring us to where we need to be.

And because synchronicity works in wonderful ways, this morning I received an email from TUT saying: “Only in hindsight, Sharon, will the miracles become obvious, will you see you were guided, and will you find there was order all along.”

I’ve quoted this before but it’s worth repeating: “It will be okay in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” As Wayne Dyer suggests, we are being taken care of. Recently, I was driving in what I was sure to be the wrong direction yet I wound up exactly where I wanted to be. Afterwards, I realised that this was a good analogy for the journey of life and the “wrong” turns we often make. Instead of cursing our bad luck, wouldn’t it be easier to have faith? To trust in Divine Timing. To remember our elders’ words: “What’s for you won’t pass you by.”

I’ve had relationships end and I felt heartbroken at the time. Now, I’m so grateful that I’m no longer with any of those partners as we would have been miserable together. In fact, I was feeling so depressed over a guy that I started this blog. For a short stint of suffering, I’ve gained over two years of writing and I’m still thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve had hardship in my life but that’s what has gotten me into the line of work I’m doing. If I hadn’t had those experiences, I wouldn’t have the compassion and understanding that allows me to help others.

Sometimes, things end and we struggle against it but what it’s doing is leaving a space for something better to come along. I know people who were made redundant in the past few years. Of course, they felt extremely worried and dismayed but now they’re pursuing lines of work that they’re passionate about.

Others have had unexpected pregnancies and they believed that their lives were over. But it was the beginning (quite literally) of a new life and most of them wouldn’t change it for the world.

My aunt was working in the catering industry when she fell into a deep fat fryer. She spent a year in hospital and, as a result, decided to go into nursing. And that is how she met the man she married.

My mother and her friends were island hopping in Greece one summer. They had arranged to meet someone on the island of Paros. When they heard the announcement “Antiparos”, they presumed they should change boats. They ended up on a tiny island called Antiparos and fell in love with the place. And that’s where my mother met my father. And how I (and then my brother and sister) came into being.

If we were to let go of the need to control the outcome of everything, we wouldn’t get so disappointed or stressed. So when something you’re looking forward to is cancelled, consider other options. And the next time you’re running late for something, don’t go into fight or flight mode. Chill out. It’s not a huge deal. Do your health a favour and relax. Perhaps you weren’t meant to be in that place at that particular time. We’ve all heard stories of people who couldn’t make it somewhere no matter how hard they tried and this “stroke of fate” saved their lives.

Instead of fussing over what you think is going wrong in your life, try accepting that everything happens for a reason. There’s a lesson to be learned here. This is preparing you for something bigger and better than you ever imagined. Yes, we have free will. But we can also have faith and trust and surrender. Let go and enjoy the ride.

You Are Not Alone

The more I speak to people who are brave enough to be honest about how they’re really feeling, the more I realise that we are all the same. We all go through tough times. We all struggle with fears and insecurities. We have all gone through or are currently going through periods when we feel depressed, hopeless and unable to cope.

Many of us struggle with our inability to be “perfect”. We believe that we must achieve, accumulate and gain approval in order to deserve a space on this planet. We beat ourselves up, even hate ourselves, when we think that we have failed. We feel lost and alone. We disconnect, shut ourselves down and close ourselves off from love, both for ourselves and for others. For when we don’t love ourselves, how can we possibly love one another?

It’s sad that many of us feel alone in this world. We fear that there is something wrong with us, that we have messed up, and that we must try to fit in. But how can we fit in with something that is just an act? It’s all an illusion. We are human. We were born into this life perfect and we spend the rest our lives struggling to come to terms with that reality. We battle against it. We rage so hard against ourselves that we look for the quickest way out of our self-inflicted hells. We turn to drugs, alcohol, overwork, unhealthy relationships, anything, to forget how bad we’re really feeling. To avoid the real reason for our suffering. To blame anything or anyone other than ourselves for not living life to the fullest. Until we cannot kid ourselves any longer. Wouldn’t it be easier if we accepted that we deserve love just because? The mere fact of our existence is enough to merit self-acceptance.

I’d love to take the whole world in a giant embrace and tell you all that you are okay. That you are not alone. That everybody feels bad sometimes. That you are magnificent and miraculous. That life can be wonderful. That if we all dropped the bullshit act of pretending, there wouldn’t be so many people who punish themselves for being less than society’s idea of perfect. But I can’t. Because everyone has a journey. Because everybody has their personal lessons to learn. Because I’m not a preacher. But I am a human being who has been through some really rough times, who’s struggled with a lot of the things I’ve mentioned above, and who still does sometimes. I am also an example of how, once you let go, open up and surrender, you can connect, enjoy, live and love.

This Christmas, consider the fact that everyone has a story that they may never tell you. Most people have been hurt and continue to hurt themselves over and over. But if we open our wounds to one another, we can finally start to heal.

Merry Christmas, my beautiful readers. I am delighted to be able to connect with you all. I am full of gratitude. I am also constantly learning. Right now, remember all the things that you are grateful for. Give yourself the gift of self-love this Christmas. And allow yourself to connect with your fellow human beings. We are all in this together.

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