There are two ways to view your life. Sean Swaby wants to know which you subscribe to.
Epic fail or Epic food?
Think of an epic fail that you were a part of. Does that fail define you or is it only one small part of you? The difference in these two perspectives may be subtle, but it can make a big difference over your lifetime.
One of my epic fails was when I was an apartment co-manager with a friend of mine. Bob and I landed the job with no experience, no interview and no idea what we were doing. I did not even own a hammer, and suddenly I was managing an apartment.
I thought it would be easy. Sit back, take rent checks and get free rent. Turns out we had to vacuum, take care of people’s plumbing issues, resolve conflicts and shovel a crap-tonne of snow. I hated it.
It all came to an end when in the dead of winter, I turned the heat off in an empty apartment, thinking I would save money in between renters. DUMB IDEA. The apartment was on the outer edge of a complex and it was heated by wall-mounted, water filled radiant heaters.
In Canada, it gets cold. No heat, water freezes. Water freezes, pipes burst. Pipes burst, apartment flooded. I wish I could take that one back. I should have just said “no” to the offer of managing the apartment. I admit my mistake. (Story previously published in Listening for the Rest of The Story)
The rest of the Story
The interesting thing is that in managing the apartment, I met a man named McRae. He and his wife were immigrants to Canada and they were hoping for a child. McRae suffered from a lot of demons, listening to loud music and drinking whiskey seemed to help. That meant I needed to remind him about keeping his music down. I ended up spending a lot of hours in his apartment, just listening to him and bringing him back to reality.
Epic fails are like that: we remember the fail, but we may forget the really good things that happened along the way.
Behavior or Being?
There are two ways of looking at life: The Food Theory and the Fail Theory.
The Fail Theory: Behavior
Some people think that you and I are the sum total of our behaviors. You hear things like “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” The subtle message is that people generally do not change and that you can predict what is in their heart based on what they DO.
The Food Theory: Being
Others think of behavior as important, but secondary. They may say things like “You are what you eat,” because you eat food to live and so that you have the energy to do what you do. Who you are, your being, is central. Your behavior is still important, but you can change.
It is easier to conclude: ‘I can’t change, I am a fail’ than it is to get up and work at it again. Recovery is in the getting up… You cannot predict how many times life will knock you down, so you have to learn to become really good at getting back up again.
If you subscribe to The Food Theory, you believe that the best predictor of behavior is the sum of your heart, your spirit, your behavior and your words.
Over time, change may become more difficult, but we still can change.
The video “Epic Fails” is one of about 100,000,000 videos that showcases people as they fall, fail, smash, splash and otherwise embarrass themselves. I cannot watch the videos for more than a minute or two because I feel weird laughing at other people’s pain.
Failure asks you and I one question
The videos ask a question: Are we the sum of our failures, or the sum of our food? To look at the scenes in the video and conclude that you, or I, are defined by our mistakes seems silly. Yet we do that all of the time.
You are what you do?
We sometimes may think “I am stupid” or “I am a loser” after a disappointing behavior, or string of behaviors. But this is not helpful.
Psychologists call this black and white thinking. It is categorical: either this/or that thinking. If we follow this thinking to it’s end, a fail makes you a failure… it defines who you are. With black and white thinking, there can be little growth because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.
This kind thinking is exclusionary: you make one choice or the other, and no matter what you do, it says something about you.
Going back to my example, if you live by the Fail Theory, you will never manage something again because of one poor decision. You learn to avoid rather than learn to grow.
It may be just me, but I find little hope in concluding that what we are and what we will be can be summed up by what we have done in the past.
Your food is what fuels you?
What compels me is that there is another way of seeing life. A failure is not a lifetime sentence, it is just a failure. The “You are what you eat” thinking recognizes that you are both struggling, and growing; both learning, and stumbling; both a father, and a growing father. You and I are more than the sum of our behaviors, otherwise spending a lot of time at McDonalds would define us as a hamburger.
This thinking is inclusive of all of who you are, which is changing, growing and yes, at times confusing.
What you can do if you are not failing well
How do you get past a failure? Honestly, sometimes I have a hard time with this one. I find that it helps if you can do a few of these things consistently:
- Notice when you are beating yourself up
- Talk about it
- Learn at least one thing from it
- Put some time and distance from it
- Understand that failure happens and will happen again
- Realize that it’s not really failure (which feels like an end point), but learning.
- Learn from it, then get busy
Sorry, you cannot call in sick, “Sorry boss, I’m not failing well.” There are two ways of seeing life, and your choice can make a lifetime of difference.
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Keep it Real
Photo by Rabiem 22