The following post is a sidetrack from my ongoing reflection on the book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. To read earlier posts on the series you can click on the links below.
Vocation and Identity: Part 1–True Self
Vocation and Identity: Part 2–Birthright Gifts
Vocation and Identity: Part 3–Limitations and Possibilities
Vocation and Identity: Part 4–Perfect in Weakness
Vocation and Identity: Part 5–“Whose Am I?”
Over the course of this series on Vocation and Identity I have talked a little about our potential, our limits, our successes and our weaknesses. These things often shape and guide us along the right path and help us discern our vocation, identity and calling. Without them there is little that gives us as blatant cues about the path we are on. Except failure! I have written on failure in other areas of life, especially in writing which is sometimes a scary venture for me.
But I wonder how often we embrace failure in our lives and learn from it? Rather than seeing it as a bad and destructive thing, maybe it’s important to view failure as a tool in guiding us in the right direction and more firmly shaping our vocation and identity, and giving us lessons for the future.
I have failed in a lot of areas in my life, but I have also realized how often I put myself in places and opportunties where the possibility of failure is limited. I mean, who wants to fail? We don’t intentionally get into a job or a relationship or a venture hoping or knowing it will fail. Nor should we. But I hope that it is not failure that keeps us from attempting things and discovering more of who we are.
I have written before about my newfound and passionate interest in running. There is nothing like running which constantly puts me in a place of possible failure. Everytime I go out there is the possibility that I might fail. I might not be at the pace I need. I might not be able to ascend that mountain trail like I need to. I might not be able to do that extra two miles longer than I have ever run. This is what is so terrifying and absolutely enthralling about running.
I ran the Chicago Marathon this last October. It was my first marathon and I loved it. Everytime I went out and trained for the marathon I was running new distances I had never run before. About 4-5 miles was the most I had ever run, so when I went out for 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 20 they were all new to me and I knew I could fail. And then lining up for the race I knew I had never run 26.2 before. That failure was a possibility.
I finished the race which was a victory for me. But I finished in 4:13 and not under 4:00 like I had wanted. That was failure for me. But I learned from the race, my successes, my limits, my failures and I feel that I have put myself in a better position for the LA Marathon which is coming up on March 4. My goal is to break 4:00 hours and I don’t know if that will happen, but that’s what makes running so exciting. The possibility to both succeed at one’s goals and to fail at one’s goals loom ahead.
This last Friday I went out for my last 20 mile run before the race and I totally bonked at mile 15. It was miserable and I almost gave up but knew if I didn’t finish the last 5 miles it would destroy my confidence. I had failed that night to set my pacing goal, but I also learned a lesson. I learned that I can’t run that far without eating better on that day. One meal and a couple of power bars don’t cut it.
This is where failure is important and teaches us important lessons about future success. Failure can teach us more about who we are (identity) and about who are to become (vocation and calling). But the problem is, is that we often safeguard for failure rather than testing ourselves or trying new things. This is where we play it safe, rather than reach after our goals or passions.
So for me, running puts me in touch with this aspect of my life and teaches me important lessons about life.
What is it for you? Maybe it’s music? Acting? Photography? Art? A new hobby? Public speaking?