A highly established middle-aged man has just come to terms with the fact that his billion dollar company is going bankrupt. He has been going through the stages of guilt, and the crushing feeling of defeat. Wondering how he got to this point of failure. After trying for months to keep his business a float...having sleepless nights with terrors of something more damning happening, he finally gave up and decided to find a well known therapist that specializes in this type of pain and anxiety.
But he’s already questioning himself in going to this meeting, as he doesn’t believe in therapy, and feels that he is strong enough to take on any situation on his own, with no help from quacks who try to get into your mind and tell you how to think. Nevertheless, he has to try something. His emotions are out of control, and he is fearful he will take a negative route in fixing the problem by drinking or doing drugs...or even worse. “I can’t lose control.” he says to himself. “I have to keep myself together. Not just for me, but for my family...” He tells himself this every day, but doesn’t fully feel confident in staying calm and positive with the stressful situation at hand. “I need help. But it better not be a waste of time.” he tells his wife while scheduling the appointment with the therapist. She replies saying “There’s got to be a positive way to get through this. And I want you to get better...you are so hard on yourself, and I don’t want you to fall apart over your company’s losses.” And with that, the couple spends the weekend with their friends and family; celebrating life and taking some much needed time away from the company and the stresses it has brought on them of late.
Monday morning rolls around, and he is due to meet with his therapist at noon. He wakes up nervous and anxious about the meeting, as he has never done this before. Told a total stranger how he feels while dishing out personal information he is uncomfortable talking about. Knowing this is what he has to do to get answers and relief, he sucks it up and gets ready to go meet the person who will help him fight his demons…
It’s 5 minutes till noon, as he walks into the waiting room to wait for the doctor to call him in. Other people are in the room too, but they look completely normal. “Maybe I was overreacting about this.” he thinks to himself. “Maybe it’s perfectly normal to do this. And there are other people here that are just like me...struggling during defeat in the game of life.”
The office door opens, and a woman appears with a meek look on her face. His name is called, and he slowly gets up, nervousness filling his whole body, and walks inside. She tells him to have a seat on the couch by the window, as she sits down in a classic embroidered armchair in front of the couch. After some pleasantries, the session begins…
Therapist: So I understand that you have come here to get some help with your stress and anxiety. Sleepless nights, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Would you care to elaborate on how you’ve been feeling lately?
Patient: I just want to be honest with you. I don’t believe in this quackery of therapy. But my wife is pushing me to get help, and I decided to give it a try and see if it helps. She’s concerned with my sleeping patterns being off. And I’ve been having night terrors, waking up scared and worried about my company. Feeling like there are worse things ahead…
You see, my company is going bankrupt, and It has really put a toll on me and my family. Not just financially, but mentally. My company is my baby. I built it from scratch, and I own it outright. I don’t want to fail at this...I don’t want to fail my family. But it seems that my losses have overshadowed my accomplishments with the company and I'm bleeding money. Revenue hasn’t been the same for a long time now, and I just haven’t been able to find a solid idea on how to fix it. Nothing is working. The marketing, the price cuts, the store closures...nothing. So I am at a loss here. But I don’t want to give up. I guess you could say...I hate losing. I have always been this way. I don’t want to fail at anything, especially something that’s mine. And feel like I am failing my family… So...how can you help me with this? Be honest.
Therapist: Well that does sound like a difficult situation to be in...And I understand your reasoning for not believing in what I do. People come in all of the time saying the same thing. But they find relief in the end. So, I guarantee...you have made the right choice in coming to me. I want you to know that nothing you say leaves this office. And I am only here to give you guidance and help you gain some understanding of your situation so we can work on fixing the problem. Because regardless of my talents as a doctor, no one knows you better than yourself. Therefore, you have the power to fix whatever problems you have. Sometimes you just need some help getting to the starting line. And that’s why I am here. To help you get through it so you can get back on track. So please, enlighten me on why you feel that you have failed your company...and failed your family?
Patient: Alright then. I appreciate your reassurance...I’ll take a chance on you. And to answer your question...why wouldn’t I feel like a failure? My company is going under, and it’s all my fault because I own it, and I made the wrong decisions. My family is having financial problems because of this company draining our income, with no large revenue coming in to pay the bills. My wife is talking about selling our house, and taking money out of our kids college fund. That’s terrible. And it’s all my fault. I know my wife thinks it is...she just doesn’t want to hurt my feelings by saying it. I know that. And I hate the feeling of anxiety I have put on her and the kids. I want to be able to take care of them and provide what they need. I want to fulfill my duties and a father, and a husband. This whole thing is making me look bad. So of course I feel like a failure. I have built my company from the ground up, and it has brought me great wealth, connections, and achievements. I have made people’s life better with my products, and my brand was recognized around the world. So if it goes under...I will be a joke...a laughing stock...a loser. I will probably lose my house. Lose my connections to wealthy and powerful people because I am no longer on their level. And that would be a huge social shift for me and my family. It’s embarrassing. And I don’t want that at all.I can’t lose this company...my image. I will be finished, and looked at as a failure. And that feeling is eating me up inside...giving me panic attacks. Bringing up old wounds to make it worse on what it took to start this company and gain momentum. I don’t want it to all be for nothing...I need this to not fail. I'm not a failure. I'm a winner. A go-getter. I come from a family of hard workers who expect nothing less. I have book smarts and street smarts. So I have what it takes to be great. And failure is not an option. But it’s starting to creep up on me, and I don’t know how to overcome it this time.
(Feeling overwhelmed by what he just told the therapist. He had to take a breath after explaining his issue to her with such conviction. The whole explanation made him stressed out and exhausted. He couldn’t say anymore, and just waited for her response. Hoping he didn’t sound too crazy)
Therapist: I see your dilemma...and I hear your frustration. But I would like to just ask you some questions to get to the root of your anxiety over the issue at hand. First, who told you that failure is something to drown your sorrows in? Second, who told you that failure is something that dubs you to be unworthy, or less than. Third, who let you feel inferior to them because you failed at something you tried your best at? But most of all, what made you think you couldn’t come back from that failure and try again? But this time, with experience, and lessons learned. It’s interesting what you told me about how you would be looked at if your company goes under. But take a second to ask yourself “Why is it shameful to fail, and have to start over?”
When people say “Failure is not an option” They fail to understand that failure is of course, not so much an option, but a lesson A lesson you can’t prepare for all of the time. And if you take failure as a defeat, you will be defeated; and you won’t see the lesson in the failure itself.
Just because you fall, it doesn’t mean you can’t get back up. So I believe that phrase should be “Giving up is not an option” Because failure is going to come and go. That’s life. But to get back up and not give in...that’s the lesson. That’s the win. That’s the achievement. If you give up after failing, this will cause you anxiety, sadness, and anguish. It will cause you to feel inadequate, and small. These are terrible feelings our brains are hard-wired to think. The idea is to not think of failure as bringing shame upon you or your family. But to take advantage of the lesson that life has given you to grow and be better. To see the things you couldn't see before because you were blinded by thinking you were in full control of your wins and losses. Life just showed you who’s boss.
(Stunned and confused and what he just heard. He scratched his head in deep thought, trying to remember when was the first time he understood that failure was bad, and who told him that...He paused as an old image flashed in his thoughts from a time when he was a little boy. His father was teaching him how to play baseball in the backyard by tossing him the baseball, and he had to swing the bat in time to hit the ball and let it fly. He remembered the conversation that went on between them while playing. As a boy, thinking the baseball game was just a “game” to play with father and son was obviously the wrong idea, because his father saw it differently.
Every time he swung the bat to hit the ball and missed, his father got upset, and told him to “Swing harder! Swing lower! Hurry up! Try harder! And every time his father got frustrated, he could feel his heart drop lower and lower as he felt like he displeased his father and he felt sad for being such a disappointment. After so many missed hits, his father got annoyed, and seeing his father upset and yelling “What’s wrong with you? Hit the ball son! It’s not that hard!” made him run off by a tree to cry saying “I’m sorry. I can’t hit the ball. I’m just not good at this. I hate this. I don’t wanna play anymore.” His father took a minute to gather himself, and the bat and ball. He walked over to his son and said “You can’t run off and cry just because you can’t do something. No son of mine will be bad at sports, or anything else for that matter. There is no failure in this family. I don’t care how you feel about it. You’re going to learn. So you’d better toughen up, and get back over there, and hit the ball like a winner son. I didn’t raise no sissy.” And the images from the past came and went like a short commercial, and he was back in his therapist's office; eyes glazed over, like he wanted to cry. Shocked that he even remembered that day as a child and how it made him feel. How that feeling followed him in the future to build him into the tough man he is today. He took a second to shake it off, and answered the doctor.)
Patient: You know what...you’re right. I understood a long time ago that failure was bad, and that you can’t come back from it without some type of embarrassment. I feel like I was bred to think that I should not fail, and that it will bring shame to me and my family if I do. I can think of so many occurrences in my life where society made me believe that failure is not an option. That to fail is to be less than. To not have been good enough the whole time. That you basically, didn’t try your best, if you didn’t win it all. But you’re telling me this isn’t so...which doesn’t make sense. How does it explain what's happening to me? Should I not feel like it’s all my fault for my company falling apart. I mean, I own it I have called the shots. Whether I did my best or not, what happens with the company is under my watch. So I am to blame for whatever goes down. Right? It’s natural to feel like you shouldn’t fail. It’s not...popular. It’s negative, and unappealing.
Therapist: But why is it “unappealing” and “negative to fail at something? People judge you for the simple fact that LIFE happened to you. Whether you made a mistake somewhere along the way or not, life happens regardless of how hard you work, and the good deeds you have done. What is happening to you now is inevitable because it’s just life. We can not choose what happens to us, and when it happens to us. Life doesn’t owe us a warning sign or a heads-up when it wants to make some changes. We didn’t create this world, we are just living in it. Trying to live life the best way we can. But what makes it hard is feeling like we have to live up to these unrealistic expectations that society has instilled in us. We kill ourselves trying to always do right, be right, and stay on top. When in fact, that’s not possible. In a perfect world, sure. But in reality, no, you can’t always be on top without failing. You have to go through failure to become better and wiser. So in your case, your company going bankrupt, it’s really just a lesson in disguise. Maybe, it’s to show you what’s really important in life. Or maybe it’s to show you where you really belong in life. I can’t find this out for you. You will have to figure this lesson out yourself. But I can promise you, you are not less than or inadequate. You are where you are for a reason. Hard work and dedication, with discipline to boot. But if you thought you were going to fly through life with no hiccups, you are sadly mistaken.
This is not your defeat...it’s your lesson. Treat it like...an epiphany. A hurdle you have to jump over that will lead into something bigger and better that will be good for you and your family. Maybe...that’s your lesson...to see what’s good for you and your family.
(As soon as the therapist ended her sentence, the soft sound of a bird chirping started up in the background. (chirp chirp...chirp chirp...) It was an alarm the therapist had set to signal the end of the session.)
Oh goodness. It looks like we are out of time. But that’s ok, we can continue our conversation next week. I think we made some progress today. I’m glad you were able to speak up about things this early. Next time maybe we can get into...
(Still in shock from her words of wisdom in her reply, he took a second to break out of wonderment to cut her off mid sentence.)
Patient: Honestly doctor...you have given me so much to think about today. I have to admit...I am both shocked, and enlightened by what you said about failure. I never thought of it that way. But it explains why I feel so attached to winning, and being on top. Through this small first session, I have come to realize what the root of my issue is. Maybe you’re not a quack after all. HAHA.
Therapist: I am glad to have made an impact on your thought process today. But we still have work to do. You may have found the root of your anxiety, but you still have to work on your plan to be better, and find a way out of your predicament. Just remember, you are not a failure. You will have to learn to let go on your insecurities with your failures in life being a negative, and start looking at them as a positive. You HAVE failed at something, as a lesson. Not a punishment. So stop punishing yourself. And just change your plan. I’ll see you next week.
(And with that, he got up from the couch and began to walk out the office with a calm reassured look on his face. Feeling relieved at the progress he made. And before he left, he shook the therapist's hand saying “I’ll be ready to learn more next week...thank you.” She relied, “Don’t thank me. Thank yourself once you get the ball rolling. I’m just your guidance.” and he shut the door behind him leaving the office)
You see, the problem is not that we failed at something. The problem is our negative reaction to the failure. Society has brainwashed us to believe that failure is something that only happens to the weak, inept, and the inexperienced. But this is simply not true. People just don’t air their dirty laundry of their failures like they broadcast their achievements. But seeing people fail and then come back stronger shows resilience. It shows courage and discipline. And that’s a great success story to use for motivation in hard times. But we are not our failures. It does not define us. It was just a lesson to pass through. But we tend to dwell on it and make ourselves miserable instead of working through the problem. We let ourselves be judged by others who deem themselves more worthy of gratitude that the people who have had more obvious failures. But why? Everyone's the same. Why is it shameful to fail anyway? Who created this idea? It robs people of their joy, and creates resentment towards others who have failures also. But no one is better than anyone else when It comes to failures. Life happens. What can you do? Just roll with it, and stay positive...don’t give up.
It’s time to normalize failure. Normalize it being just a stepping stone in life; not a devastating set-back, or a character flaw. With every failure comes a lesson. And without it, how will you be stronger and wiser the next time around? Failure is not there to stop you, it’s there to teach you. Let go of your anxieties behind failing at something and thinking you can't come back from it. Appreciate the lesson, and make the necessary changes.