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.

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