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Failure is an excellent teacher if you pay attention to the lessons. Everyone likes to succeed, to have everything go smoothly, but sometimes the best attributes a person has come from failure. “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most beautiful” (Mulan 1998). My failures provide me with the following things; they taught me how to be me and they still do, which is why I embrace them.
1. A sense of identity: I am not the person I thought I wanted to be when I was five, fifteen, or even twenty-five, but I like who I am and it is in part through the things that I have failed at that I became this person. I thought I wanted to be a unicorn or the president at age five and a movie star at age fifteen; clearly I have failed at all three. Unicorns are (shhh) not real and I have no talent for pretend or foreign policy. Before any of my failures, I was naïve and sheltered. I accepted what I was told by “the authority” and worried about others’ opinions entirely too much. Publicly failing (and surviving) led me to realize that sometimes the accepted norm is wrong and that if I am giving something 100%, who cares what other people think?
2. What I am good at and enjoy: I was horrible in Poli Sci and I wasn’t quite right for any local stage parts I tried out for because I wasn’t “believable” and “had no skill” on stage, which nixed the POTUS run and on-camera careers. My future might be altered but I lived and found out that I rocked biology and nutrition classes, opening up the potential for a different life path. I also failed miserably at bankrolling my education so I joined the military, also opening doors I never dreamed of knocking on. I love being in the military; I love to help people and I would have never found that out if I had been good at poly-sci or better at budgeting as a teen.
3. The extent of family: It is in times of failure that you find out who really cares for you and will be there when you need them. I believe that family is more than DNA-based; family are the people who come into your life and lift you up every time you fall. When I lived far from home my family changed. It was military family that moved me out of my apartment suddenly on a rainy night or held my hand when I miscarried on Christmas Day. Failure at relationships, life milestones and finances has a tendency to run off fair-weather folk and allow us to appreciate those who stick around.
4. How to be truly happy: I will never look like a supermodel (fail, maybe) and I don’t care anymore. My scars tell stories that I am really proud of; I am beautiful and strong. My career path is not what I thought I wanted, but I love what I do. There are milestones I have “missed” like finishing my degree in four years or sitting in the Oval Office, but these failures actually highlight achievements in my life.
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5. Strength and setbacks prepared me for next opportunity: My Christmas miscarriage ended a bad relationship (and lead to the midnight move), what some might have seen as a double fail (parenthood and the relationship) but those things led to my husband and three beautiful children. I didn’t get a job assignment I thought I wanted on a plum mission in my hometown because I am a complete failure at interviews, but that kept me available for a mission with promotion less than 80 miles away (with no interview). It has been the progression of failures that taught me to handle setbacks with grace. Sometimes how a person reacts to failure opens them up to another opportunity.
6. It teaches me flexibility: Surviving a failure teaches that the world will not end and it enhances your tools to handle the unexpected. Learning from my mistakes teaches me compassion and optimism because if you don’t struggle or fail, how can you hope to relate to someone who is currently struggling or failing? Failing and living through it shows me that things can and will get better, which just prepares me for the next time I crash and burn. So don’t be too hard on yourself when that cake sinks, you get laid off, or your diet has a oopsie. Use what just happened to become a better you.