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The Failure Mistake

You know, that feeling when something you’ve made or done or planned goes sideways and suddenly your insides are burning and you feel both like you’re shrinking, but also like the whole world is staring at you? 


What tools come to your aid? Anger? Blame? Self-deprecation? Humour?


They all work a little to assuage that terrible, overwhelming, unbearable feeling of failure.


The word and the feeling are often so much more damaging than the event of the actual failure.


For me, this was definitely the case this week. I had two moments when I felt the weight of failure settle upon me. Moments where I felt useless and inadequate over things that were really not a big deal.


The first was a cupcake failure. 


My youngest son has always had food allergies and sensitivities, but when we got the test results back this time, we weren’t prepared for the mountain of things that are affecting his system. Nuts, legumes, gluten and dairy we already knew about, but now we’ve added eggs, oats, rice, corn and potatoes to the list.


He was upset, we were overwhelmed.


What can he eat? (We also had a birthday party coming up the next day.)


Well, as someone who has many food allergies and sensitivities, I felt like I could come to the rescue. I started pouring through recipes until I found a cake that I thought would work. It was egg-free and used olive oil instead of butter (our usual go to butter substitute contains pea protein), the recipe had rice flour as a base and used corn starch, but I substituted sorghum and millet flour and tapioca starch and thought I had it all under control.


But, I didn’t.


The cupcakes rose and then fell, they were verging on overcooked on top and barely done in the middle. They were fragile and crumbly and not at all what I was hoping for.

I felt devastated, angry and defensive. With all the things I am no longer able to do, if I can’t even make cupcakes then what use am I?


My family offered reassurances. The kids happily sampled the cupcakes. Told me it was the taste that counted. I could make cake pops from the ones that were falling to pieces.

I couldn’t hear any of it. I could just hear my own judgment. My own certainty that I’d failed. I wanted to throw it all into the compost, hide it away so that no one could see the mess I’d made.


Then, during a meditation, I examined my certainty of failure a little closer. It wasn’t easy to look at, it almost physically hurt to look closer instead of burying it away.


But, when I did allow myself to look at this failure, the shame around it started to fade a little.

The cupcake disaster was covering up so many other fears of not being able to be useful and capable. Not being able to be what I was supposed to be.


Perfect.


Isn’t that what we all think we’re supposed to be? There are many different kinds of calls to perfection, but at the end of the day, they all amount to the same thing.


Each of us hopes to be perfect enough to be worthy or loveable or whatever other story we believe our perfection will bring.


We don’t want to embrace our mistakes. We don’t want to make space for the idea that our mistakes can be moments of learning, moments of vulnerability and even wonder.


In schools, we talk to kids a lot about seeing mistakes as learning opportunities, but the modeling for this is scarce to non-existent.


To be lifelong learners, we need to open ourselves up to the idea that mistakes and failures are not shameful. (And not just when it applies to other people, but for you too!)


If I look at my cupcakes as a failure, then I can’t learn from them. Failure and mistakes are things to hide away and be ashamed of


I think we need to come up with an entirely new word. A word that has no baggage because it’s freshly born, a word that tells us it’s safe to look at what went wrong in this situation and learn from it. 


Retryer?


The cupcakes I made were a retryer.


They are now, in fact, enjoying their second life as cake pops as I look through the recipe and try to figure out how to fix it for next time.


My second retryer this week was in my first attempt to make crackers free of all of the

allergens. They looked like crackers and tasted like crackers, but had a texture nearer to tough cardboard.


Having made it through the cupcake hurdle, I was more able to take this one in stride. Facing the fact that there will be a lot of trial and error in my baking in the next little while. It’s a hard reality with my health and limited energy, but you know what they say:


If at first you don’t succeed, retryer retryer again.



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