May 14, 2020

No, there is Not a “Lesson in Every Failure.”

There’s a thing we do in our culture:

We wrap everything in a tidy package and put a bow on it. There’s a lesson at the end of every hardship. There’s a gift in every failure. There’s a subtle but insistent “but it’s worth it” tone to every hardship story.

The thing is: there isn’t always a happy ending. People fail. Pain endures. Things don’t turn out the way we wanted to or planned. We quit.

In this push for fairy-tale endings, there is a gentle but insistent call for the story to not include any surprise discomforts along the way. It’s seen as weak to disclose that things hurt physically or emotionally, until the surprise ending where all may be revealed because: “it all worked out in the end,” and “I learned so much,” and “I’m so glad for the hardship.”

It’s hard for people to hold discomfort. It’s hard to hear someone else is going through a hard time and regrets the path they took to get there. It’s even harder to hear that someone else is going through a hard time because of a choice they made. Just because you decided to train for a marathon (of any kind) doesn’t mean you don’t deserve support for the pain along the way.

It’s hard in our culture to hold two diametrically opposed ideas. It’s hard to hear that someone can both be happy for little moments yet also find a situation difficult. We want a hero and a villain in the story, and we want clear delineation over what is victory and what is failure. Happiness is victory, misery is failure. We don’t want to know that someone can both laugh and be happy for a challenge in a broad sense, but cry and writhe in pain in a smaller sense. Pick one, please, we say.

I see people carrying this kind or pressure around in their bodies every day.

We are literally culturally breaking our bodies by trying to fulfill and uphold the story of bravery and perfection all the time.

The cult of positivity and happy endings actually and factually doesn’t prepare us for reality. Life has hardships, it also has joys. And those two can be one.

We don’t have to hold a brave body all the time. We don’t have to carry a brave mind all the time. We don’t need to be stoic and not let anyone ever see us sweat or break mentally or physically.

We can instead laugh. We can get comfortable with laughing while a sword is simultaneously chucked into our back. We can laugh while in pain and smile in grief.

We can instead talk. We can share pain and struggles with people without holding in secrets that are so tender that they can only be shared with one person. Someone has come before you on this path; you are not living a life experience that that’s special. We can get advice from people and unite in a human experience.

We can move. Get up off our couch and exercise. The body holds our secrets and pains like buried treasure.

We can drop the happy endings and positive memes. Life is still being written—how do you know how it ends? But we can also share the path along the way and not hold back until the ending is written just to tell someone else it “all works out in the end.” Even if it did.

We can be enough for someone else. We don’t need to tell everyone to go to a therapist just because they are explaining a mental struggle or a physiotherapist just because their body hurts. We can learn to move through the waves of moments.

Your body holds the entire story. Stop telling half of it or waiting until the end to share your conclusions. Your body knows every word in every sentence in every chapter.


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