Knocked Down Is Not Knocked Out
Failure is something that we face each and every day and hopefully don’t experience too often. When a failure happens we try to learn from it, try to determine what caused it, how it can be prevented, how we can best see it coming. We’re not always so lucky as to have forewarning but once in a while we see the possibility of failure looming and we can adjust our path to avoid it.
As often as I have failed (and that is a stupendous number of times, I tell you), I have succeeded, and that means I must be doing things the right way. Failures produce lessons. Failures are only as bad as you make them out to be. Failures are critical to us as individuals and as a species; real failures don’t make it. But those that learn from failures and change their behavior to accommodate what they’ve learned move forward. Isn’t that what life’s about? I think that failure is what produces success.
Self-Reflection Is Critical
Making plans toward a better future takes a lot of time and consideration. Those who don’t take this time for circumspection and consideration are just throwing their future into the wind. Yet even the best laid plans can come to naught no matter how you have prepared an outline of your goals. Ask anyone that’s had a disaster sideswipe them and the first thing they’ll probably say is that they never saw it coming, the car came out of nowhere. I didn’t see the bus. I don’t know how I fell and broke my hip. One minute I was standing there and the next I woke up in the hospital in traction.
“One should expect that the expected can be prevented, but the unexpected should have been expected.
Norman Ralph Augustine
There are always changes in our reality that are random. We cannot predict them. We cannot prepare for them and we have no way of understanding them. We find ourselves at a loss, literally at a loss. And then we must make an extraordinary effort to adapt to what has happened to us and those efforts are often heroic.
Let’s Use This Poor Lizard As Our Example
Why would I consider this lizard to be a good illustration for today’s topic? As it happens I have used pointy-type animals in my blog before (such as porcupines). When we’re a good lizard going along in life and seeking out the things that sustain us like flies or spiders, we need something more than just the skin on our backs for protection. Hawks love nothing more than the ability to get those talons into us with as few problems as possible.
So a good set of spikes all over your skin makes you unattractive at the very least and at best, impossible to eat. And from our lizard point of view, that’s very good. Since we’re somewhat protected from harm we can go on looking for things that nourish us. We have a little room in our lives for optimism.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”
Seeing this cranky and yet hopeful lizard’s point of view is easy. But we’re talking about us humans here, and that means we have no end of problems and fortunately no end to possible solutions.
If we want optimism to be real, to be substantive, then we need to temper that optimism with a fairly good recognition of reality. Yet reality, whether yours or mine, is a spiky creature all its own. It is never perfect, always changing, sometimes seemingly impossible to understand and at times our very best protector from hungry hawks looking for a dinner.
Come On Get Scrappy
While our lizard friend is passive when it comes to protection, we do not at times have that luxury, and we are forced to actively defend ourselves. Put up our dukes and run the bad guys out of town. Knock ’em down for the count.
The best proactive method of self-protection is to do a complete and thorough house-cleaning of our emotions, goals, plans and motives. Think this is easy? Hell, no. It’s among the most difficult things on your to-do list. It’s even harder than that. It means seeing yourself in ways that you don’t usually notice. It mean honesty. It means war.
That’s right. All-out war.
“A lost battle is a battle one thinks he has lost.”
When you’re forced to give yourself that review it means seeing those spikes and barbs, those missing scales, the lost piece of your tail, your shamefully unkempt claws. It means you have to be utterly barbaric in your mercilessness of your self-review. Because once you see yourself in the way that your fears see you, well, that’s when you realize that it’s war.
And the reality is this: your optimism is the prey of your fears.
“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
Your fears feed upon all your doubts, your uncertainties, your confusion. Remove them and there’s very little nourishment for your fear. Of course it’s impossible to completely starve it out but the less you feed fear, the smaller it becomes until it’s like an unfed tick that’s stuck to a single scale on your beautiful lizard body.
If you don’t make the effort to improve and to build your optimism, then prepare yourself to be smacked into a very hard brick wall of your own making. If you were our lizard friend, and had made your evaluation, realized you approve and even adore your spiky self and realized that this wall was in place, then you would do what any good lizard would do: scale the wall, not smack into that wall like a distracted bird into a window. A stupid hawk might do such a thing but a lizard? Never.
It’s a reality that as humans, we like to build walls to keep things out, to enclose what we have, and to define what we consider to be ours. The same goes for the walls that we put up against optimism: we like to keep out possibility, enclose ourselves in our own delusions, perpetuate our false believe that we are our own mighty, untouched kings in our self-made land.
Possibility is the recognition of optimism and vice versa. Enclosures and walls we erect define our limitations and ignorance. Believing you are untouched by life and its reality and that we rule in our lives is flawed and narrow thinking. If we do rule it is because we understand possibility and we concede and accept reality. That acceptance does not negate optimism; rather, it encourages optimism to be realistic and attainable in our lives and in the right ways and proportions.
How Perfect To Be Imperfect
Optimism isn’t removed from reality, far from it. It shapes our reality and is therefore not a combatant of reality, it is in fact a partner and shaper of reality just as much as reality should shape our optimism. They are best when balanced. They should be recognized and respected as the powerful forces that they are, not exploded into something for want of a better word, unrealistic.
When you look at fear in the eye and realize that you’re able to tame it and do that taming in a realistic way, there’s your balance. It isn’t easy to practice. Fear is a terribly fearsome and horrible enemy. But by looking thoughtfully and seriously at yourself, by fomenting optimism, by negating fear, by accepting your reality and working to change it according to a realistic plan, then even the lizard you are can be an acceptable human. I ought to know. I’m the spikiest lizard on this rock.