Failing Forward and Forgiveness

I was doing a Calm Challenge meditation on self-forgiveness this morning, and identified one of my past professional and personal failures as what I really need to forgive myself for. One of the elements was identifying what led to what you needed to forgive yourself for. That’s a hideously constructed sentence, but what it boiled down to for me was, what led to the decision to leave a job that (in hindsight) was a reasonably good fit for me, take a job halfway across the country, move my family, and cry the whole way there because I thought I might be making a mistake? It turns out that it was… fear of failure.

The reason I left that job was because I kept getting recommendations from senior faculty to delay my tenure case. My whole professional life, since I started my PhD, tenure had been the goal. I wanted to do research and work in academia- the setting where I have always felt most comfortable, most at home. And here were the experts telling me that I wasn’t there yet. That I was not meeting the benchmarks that kept evolving over time. And I was terrified at the idea of failing at my main professional goal.

That fear of failure led to me, essentially, choosing to run away. To a city, a job, and a life that was not for me. Not for us. In the process, I nearly lost my marriage, my professional identity, and any self-confidence that I had built up (slooowllly) over a long period of time.

And yet. Looking back now. I made the (bad) choice. We moved. I tried the new job. I hated it. I hated the city. I disliked being so close to my family again. I wanted to be back in the plains, fields, and rolling bluffs of the Midwest. I was so desperate to get out, once I got in, that it was almost comical. Talk about a wake up call.

And now, now I know. I know that I had to fail in that other position to get where I am today. I had to leave what I thought was an ideal situation to find one that’s an even better fit. I had to leave a place I loved – a place I thought I’d be forever – to realize that maybe I should try to spend forever somewhere else.

If I hadn’t made that choice? If I hadn’t failed? I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be as focused, as productive, and as happy as I am today.

I now, finally, can see that horrible choice – that misstep – as an opportunity to hit the reset button. To, as the quote says, begin again, this time, more intelligently. I know myself better now. I think my marriage is starting to recover. And I am happy. I also know that “forever” might not be the best option – and that’s okay! I might leave here someday, for another opportunity. But I also know that when and if I do, it will not be because I feared failure. It will be because I see another, better opportunity elsewhere. A better fit. And that’s amazing.

Hard lessons? Absolutely. But necessary ones.

I worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers 
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn 
as it was taught, and if not how shall 
I correct it? 

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, 
can I do better? 

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows 
can do it and I am, well, 

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, 

am I going to get rheumatism, 

lockjaw, dementia? 

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. 

And gave it up. And took my old body 

and went out into the morning, 

and sang.
Mary Oliver

Yet another Mary Oliver poem, and yet one that speaks to me today. I worry. I worry all the time. And yet, today’s meditation (thank you, Calm, for your 2019 challenge, which is bringing me some new favorites!) and this poem and another one I found… all highlight the importance of recognizing, owning, and then ditching my worries. 
I am working on this. I am trying, but it is hard. It is always hard for we who worry incessantly. And it’s not easy for the non-worriers in our lives to understand this. 
I am worried about family things, relationship issues, the weather, my work, and on and on and on. I could just worry all the time, but I am starting to learn (finally) how counterproductive and destructive that is. 
So I strive to achieve what Ms. Oliver seems to have, in her later years… 
…Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up.

More inspiration for a Monday, as always. Thank you, Mary, for your light and life. 

Per Aspera Ad Astra

I was all set to write about how Per Aspera Ad Astra is my phrase of the year – to with “seek”, my word of the year. While I don’t think I have necessarily navigated hardship, as the phrase indicates, this speaks to me because of the shift from the negative, the hardships (to whatever degree we all face them) and the shift to reaching for the stars. Moving towards the positive – finding the good and celebrating it.

It’s astonishing how, when you land on an idea or word or thought that becomes your guide / intention, how you start to see it everywhere.

And, in honor of Mary Oliver, who died yesterday (1/17/2019), I realized that one of her poems speaks directly to this intention of mine for 2019. What better way to honor her and celebrate her, than to read and savor these words? She brought so much light into the world – I can only hope that I am able to reflect just a tiny bit of it in my own life.

The Journey – Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The first line resonates so strongly for me – One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began…

Yes. Just, yes. 

Thank you, Mary. Thank you for connecting me to the deeper parts of myself. More than anything, thank you for using your creativity, your light, your words, to make this world a better place. Rest peacefully, reunited, I hope, with your love. You will be missed. 

2018 Lessons

2018 turned out to be a pretty darn good year. Looking back, and reading all of the end-of-year surveys and comprehensive lists of what people did / read / experienced, I realized that my 2018 was right up there in the good ones.

  • I started a job that I really, really love, in a location that I enjoy more everyday. 
  • I did not move. This is HUGE for me, as I have moved more times than I can count in my adult life. Seriously, I needed extra pages for my FBI background checks for different jobs. 
  • I got rid of a lot of clutter and crap. Cleaning out feels so good – and holding on to things “just in case” or because of a vague memory, well, I found out that does not work for me. And that’s okay!
  • Donated a lot of that stuff (which was actually in pretty good shape, not “crap”…) 
  • Made some work friends. Some of whom might, eventually, become out-of-work friends. 
  • Read.  A lot. I actually set a Goodreads goal for 2019 of 20 books – my first reading challenge! – and I really hope I blow it out of the water. Of course, that means that I have to actually record the books I read! 
  • Journaled. A lot. 
  • Started this blog. 
  • Kept connecting in unexpected ways with others. 
  • Meditated nearly every day (she writes, on a day she did not meditate…). 
  • Put my TV in the closet. 
  • Submitted a really big grant. 
  • Went to Maine for 2 weeks. 
  • Went to Hawaii for 8 days. 
  • Saw my parents twice, as well as my extra-parents. 
  • Napped more than I have. 
  • Tried a bunch of new things – Pilates, new foods – and enjoyed most of them. 
  • Started my journey back to being me. 
2019 is starting off pretty well, too. Time to see where it takes me… 
Optimism – Jane Hirshfield

More and more I have come to admire resilience.

Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam

returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous

tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,

it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.

But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,

mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.

I saw this posted on Instagram by Maria Popova, the founder, writer, and curator behind BrainPickings. Her work is amazing – she published a book last year – and her insights often bring me to new thoughts at just the right time. While not all of the newsletters speak to me, most of them do, and I look forward to her twice-weekly emails for the ideas and thoughts they generate for me.

I finally did the “trendy” thing and chose a word for the year – and for 2019, it’s going to be


I toyed with the idea of grow, again. (I’ve used that in the past.)
Explore was also up there.
But exploration, while it can be used to describe what I call “inner work”, seems more focused on external explorations.

Seeking can be internal, external, spiritual, physical, emotional… I can seek adventure, but I can also seek positive relationships for where I am now in life.
I can seek a community, spiritual growth, new ideas, new knowledge.

And Jane Hirshfield’s poem highlights, for me, how I want to focus my life, and my seeking, this year.

I want to become more resilient, more tenacious, more persistent.
I don’t want to always hew to the path that I’ve chosen – sometimes, seeking, and resilience, tenacity and persistence require a new approach, a twist and a turn here and there.
But always, moving forward.
Seeking. Maybe not the way I anticipated doing so at the beginning, but still moving and driving and growing.

I love the line “…the sinuous tenacity of a tree”

Perhaps I’m not sinuous, necessarily, but tenacity? that I have.
We’ll see what my path – my branches? – look like at the end of 2019. Who knows what the new year will bring? Time to seek…and know.