What determines if you are failing or succeeding? I have to ask myself this question to stop a vicious mental cycle. I want to start the new year with a pause, a long enough pause to ponder this question. If I don’t, I sit like a merciless judge overlooking each day’s events with a critical eye. Without hesitation, I hit the gavel against the wood and pronounce “Failure as charged!” It is much easier to judge myself as failing than succeeding. If my critical judge doesn’t see any “bigger than life “evidence of success, she quickly assumes there is nothing worth finding. To determine that I may actually be succeeding instead, this takes more work. And this leads me to the next question “Have I determined I’m failing because it’s more work to discover how I’m succeeding?”
When you are building a dream, creating something in the dark (often groping in the dark), there isn’t always “bigger than life” evidence you are succeeding. There is usually just darkness. When I say darkness, I don’t mean it in a negative tone. I mean it in the way the poet T. S. Eliot wrote “I said to my soul, be still, let the dark come upon you which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre, the lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed.” Creating is like setting a new scene on stage. But when we are creating something new, we are most vulnerable to the critical judge that says we are failing. This is a truth I have intimately and painfully learned over 2014.
In March 2014, Brian and I took our kids and left the shore of the familiar behind us. We set out to create something we had never done before. We followed our heart’s pull and put everything we had into our dream. Every bit of creative energy, every dollar we had ever saved, every opportunity for revenue that we would miss, every family member, every detail that makes home feel like home, we gave it all with no guarantee of what our result would be. Ten months later, we are still forging this dream in the fire. We still feel like we are groping in the dark. And when I look around, I find myself in a new place, unknown land, and often feel lost. This is when that critical judge enters the courtroom of my heart. On some days, the judge holds court several times throughout the day. And I hear the gavel pound and pound and pound the proclamation of “Failure as charged!” The evidence comes rolling in…
-We left our beautiful home by the sea and mountains where the air is fresh and clean…
and moved to the desert. We still haven’t been able to sell our home, and it weighs on us all the time. Doubt takes center stage “Maybe you should have waited to move…maybe you should have stayed longer…how will you make ends meet?…You’ve sold the pilot but you haven’t sold the series yet…what if you never do….” On and on Doubt goes like a well practiced attorney who knows this is an easy win.
-Back home, we had an older Mercedes station wagon. I loved that car–just a fun classic. We thought it would sell right away, and then we’d put that money towards buying a car down here. After three months, it still hasn’t sold. Brian and I spent almost five years getting out of debt.
For us, the option of financing a car isn’t an option. We’ve tasted what life is like without a car payment, and we don’t want to go back. The church here has generously loaned us their 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis–think old school, silver bullet. I drove it to a photo shoot recently. This family has found incredible financial success in their life. Their is mutual respect between us and room for joking in our relationship. When the dad saw the car I had driven to their home, he jokingly said “This is NOT the car I would expect you to be driving with all I know of you and your business.” He wasn’t being critical. He was just surprised.
I jokingly responded, “Don’t forget where you came from. You weren’t always the successful business man you are today. Remember what it was like to build a dream with no guarantee of success? Brian and I are all in with everything we’ve got.”
As I drove home in the silver Grand Marquis, I felt the critical judge entering court again, calling the court to order, asking to see the evidence of what car I’m driving, as if the car I drive determines my future or current successes. The critical judge in my mind did not listen to the argument that we are choosing not to take on a car payment, as we patiently wait for our car back home to sell. The critical judge only saw my titles, accolades, TV shows I’ve done and do, and looked at the make and model of the car we are driving and said “It doesn’t match up. Failure as charged!”
-Holidays have come to an end. I stepped on the scale last week. I was up more than I’m comfortable with. The critical judge looked back at me in the mirror and said “Failure as charged!”
-I sat down to blog today, but the evidence came rolling in. “After 7 years of blogging almost four times a week, every week, she hasn’t blogged at all since she was hospitalized in Israel. That was six months ago! She’s lost her momentum and discipline. We know she’s moved her family across the country. We know she’s given up the familiar for the unknown, but that’s still no excuse.” The critical judge leans forward, looks me up and down, and says “Failure as charged.”
I could go on and on with all the ways I see myself failing. On one hand, it sounds ridiculous to even type because there is another side to every example. But I wanted to share these examples with you today because I know I’m not the only one that holds court in their mind every day. And there is power in knowing you are not alone. So how do you determine if you are failing or succeeding? Clearly, there are endless ways to determine you are failing. Here’s what I’ve learned about determining success.
5 Principles to Determining Success
1. Train your spirit’s eyes. Daily successes are easy to miss. We are often looking for show stoppers or mountain peaks; the unexpected job offer, the mysterious check in the mail, the breakthrough in our marriage that changed everything overnight, the miracle healing for our loved one, the estranged relationship fully reconciled… We look for the evidence of these huge successes, and when we don’t see them we dismiss the courtroom with a verdict of failure. These mountain-moving successes do come in life, but not on a daily basis. Daily success are often packed deep in the earth’s hard rock and cold noise of the day. Daily successes must be mined out. Like a miner who looks for a thin sliver of gold embedded in the unforgiving rock, we must look for our daily successes. A gold miner only has only to see a sliver of gold to know he’s struck gold.
2. Listen for turbulence at night. When you turn off the bedroom light, tuck yourself into the covers and listen for turbulence. Despite all the looming impossibles you face, despite all the fears that taunt you, do you feel a deep peace in your heart? With all the uncertainty and unfamiliarity that surrounds me and Brian, I feel a deep peace in my heart when the house is quiet at night. I know we are exactly where we are supposed to be. I know I don’t have a ton of evidence to show for it, but the deep peace tells me everything. That isn’t to say that I end my day feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. I do. But there is a difference between exhausting yourself from all the energy it takes to ignore the pull in your heart to leaving the shore of the familiar and being exhausted by the sheer journey. Two different exhaustive states. One lets you sleep at night. The other keeps you awake with turbulence of the heart.
3. Observe the wildlife. When I say wildlife, I’m affectionately referring to our children. They are wild and full of life. Do they seem to be walking out their day with peace? Moving to a new state can be overwhelming for kids, but I’m amazed at how Pascaline and Blaze are taking the change in stride. This is evidence of success. This is evidence of being on the right track. Before we left Washington, without hesitation, they told everyone they did NOT want to move to Texas. This would worry me day and night. But since we’ve moved, they are making friends, having new experiences, and they are the first to say they are glad we came. They have hard days and good days, but there is a deep peace I see in them–even a new kind of faith for this new chapter. Sometimes God gives our kids what we are lacking. Observe the wildlife, and you may find unexpected joy and adventure.
4. Count the family not the bank account. Our family has been dream-building for over a decade. We have watched our bank accounts grow and grow, and we just picked the proper savings account, find best savings accounts and start growing your bank account. Society sends endless messages to us “You can determine if you are failing our succeeding by looking at your bank account statements!” Beware of this. It’s a trap. When you choose to step into the unknown, you are also choosing to determine your success by something much richer, deeper and greater than a monthly bank statement. You have to find a new economy to count your wealth by. Count the ways your family laughed together, reconciled, chose to forgive, helped each other, pressed through peer pressure, ate well, exercised, rested, unplugged, prayed, played, watched movies, played with neighbors, created, spoke up, held their tongue, gave and chose to love again. These are things worth counting. The bank accounts will go up and down as you are dream building. They won’t be stable through much of the process. But there are other accounts to count, your family’s account of well being.
5. Flip the Failure. Every scenario that tries to proclaim “Failure as charged!” is a scenario I can flip and be thankful for. I am SO THANKFUL we have four wheels to drive us around town. I am so thankful we don’t have to take the bus or finance a car. I am so thankful for the generosity and support of our church and their silver Grand Marquis. Brian and I have never experienced such tremendous support from a church community. It leaves me speechless much of the time. And the truth is that our family, especially our kids and all their jokes, are never going to forget this car. It’s not only good, but important for mom and dad to show the kids that the year and make of a car is not what makes us happy. In fact, drive your car with pride and smile wide! THERE IS NEVER SHAME IN SACRIFICE WHEN YOU ARE DREAM BUILDING.
After owning a home for thirteen years, it’s strange to go back to renting. But this home has so much peace, joy and creative energy. And here’s the truth, the four walls don’t make my home. My family is home. I’m so thankful for my health. I may be up in weight, but I have both of my legs to take me to yoga and go for walks. I don’t have to struggle in the same way my dad does with a prosthetic leg. And it’s okay for weight to fluctuate, especially when you’ve had major stress and deep grief. Loving yourself back to a whole place is what matters most.
These are only some of the ways to determine if you are failing or succeeding. These are principles I have found in the fire and hold dear. We know in our head that a car, home and bank account balance don’t determine whether or not we are failing or succeeding. Yet, we easily get caught into the trap of thinking they do.
We may be vulnerable if we feel like we’ve never been able to get ahead, and we are just as vulnerable if we’ve owned these things and given them up. Yet, we have a common ground.
We came to this place today because we believe we are meant to create. We believe we are meant to grope in the dark and birth something new. We believe the darkness isn’t bad but may actually be the darkness of God. And that our very lives are like T.S. Eliot’s stage being reset. As I think of you and say a prayer for your new year, I hear the orchestra beginning to tune their instruments. The lights are dimming. I hear the rustling of the stagehands moving props behind the curtain. I see the ruffle of the red velvet, and I lean forward with anticipation to see what 2015 will reveal on the stage of my life and your life.
We are not failing. We are succeeding. Lean forward with me, and let us wait for the curtain to rise.
Happy New Year, and Cheers to the Stages of Life being Reset!