“We had to learn ourselves and teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the task with it constantly sets for each individual.” Victor Frankl, in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, page 77
In the margins, my handwriting says, “…but the safety of failure!”
I have this thing with my wife: I’ll get mad at her for…I don’t quite know what. But I know she’s irritating me! It may take hours or days (it used to take weeks), but eventually I’ll find it – some recent slight or mistreatment or lack of affection; some error that I’m sure is making me mad. There’s not much she can do to make it right. She can’t go back and undo the mistreatment.
So we end, predictably, at a stalemate; her unable to fix the situation, and me unwilling to let it go. Unfortunately this happens with some predictable rhythm. And as I recognize the cycle, at some point, the disappointing realization creeps up, massages my shoulders, and whispers the truth in my ear, “This was never really about her.”
All the apologies I had extracted, all the the burden I had laid at her feet, all the disappointments I had about her role in our relationship – they were all a smoke screen for a really crappy mood about something else entirely.
Humble pie awaits. I don’t have to eat any, but there is really no moving forward until I do. I could just suddenly act “all better”, like a psycho ex-girlfriend, but that would make me an insane person, and would probably start to wear on the sanity of the people who have to live with me through my cycles. Or I could stay mad and bitter, disconnected. But to make it right, the next steps are clearly mine.
Nowadays I usually spend about 36 hours in this limbo, disconnected and knowing that it’s my fault. But this limbo is the most interesting part of the whole dance for me. Theoretically, it would be so much easier if I just said, “Oops! Sorry!” and moved on with a happy life, but I stay miserable because of embarrassment, shame, defeat, and hopelessness. The internal devils sound like this:
Really? This again? You couldn’t see this coming?
You can make it right this time, but you’ve already done this 100 times before, so you know you’re going to do it again.
I’d rather just stay defeated and wrong and lonely than keep trying and failing
It’s embarrassing to try, and there is no loss in remaining a loser. Maybe just stay down this time.
It is an act of courage to strive against failure instead of resting in the safety of capitulation. So I respond to them
My bad decisions in the last minute don’t disqualify me from making better ones in this moment.
My story isn’t over. It doesn’t have to end like this.
This is really who I am right now, and staying low doesn’t make the cycles go away, it just robs me of the potential joy in the middle.
The only ultimate failure is failing to attempt, not failure in an attempt.
Instead of seeing the future as a dwindling set of expiring and possibilities, lay down a page of the calendar as a reality of the past. In the present moment, which kind of story am I going to choose to etch into my own history books?
At least this has been a struggle in my life. What has been your experience with those feelings?