Failure is the inadmissible normality of the western economy, an unattractive result within societies that constantly seek “up and to the right” improvements, the avoid-at-all-costs stepping stone to crossing the stream of success which necessarily feeds the achievers’ egos. Failure is also the critical and inevitable element of problem solving. What would a jigsaw puzzle be if not for its cracks and crevices? What would make a door or window, if not the opening? What would be a tree if it didn’t shed its leaves to sleep and prepare for regrowth? All solutions with cracks as part of their naturally-accepted design. Perhaps the fault of my human world is failing to recognize the necessity of breaking, braking, and taking a break.
I ended my final bachelors degree memo with the sensation that I failed to fail. I hacked the secondary and post-secondary education systems with flourishing grades, maintaining interest in most subjects, understanding the testing methodology, and unequivocally learning to learn. I did well in school, but I was also good at school. (There’s a difference in grammar and in meaning.) I knew that some classmates did not enjoy the same privilege and luck of my psyche, but in the classic fashion of achievers, I rode my own success without coattails, without empathy, and without concern for lifting those around me. Not only did I fail to fail, I failed to help those who failed, leaving them to fend for their own fortitude.
Eventually, after six years of full-time work and not enough respect for non-working hours, I broke. I found the frayed and scathed fringe of burnout, a notion that I previously degraded to conceptual publications. Come to find out: while some burn strong and long, every fire dies. Even an eternal flame starts somewhere, takes new fuel, and is not the same blaze from start to is eventual finish. There’s always the possibility to rekindle old flames. And – via my ever-acquainted soul-mama – I’m learning that it is only through the darkness that we can begin to see the light.
One of the beautiful aspects of taking a break is that the journey transforms. Each heartbeat pumps different cells: some young, some dying, and with every single beat comes a new heart. There’s fault, too, in the story of Hallmark greeting cards that champion every sunrise offering a fresh canvas; truthfully, we can start anew at any moment we choose.
Truthfully, I don’t know where I am in the spectrum of rebuilding and rebuilt. Am I renewed or renewing? I’m content with what I’ve built, but I can’t predict what the future will need nor offer. I softly finished my sabbatical in the fall, found several clients to consult part-time, and took the coincidence of the holidays to invest my time for my family. I felt really good about taking this time.
Meanwhile, I had the good fortune of meeting someone who catalyzed me to re-think leaving Berlin. In the midst of telling my handful of close friends that I would be moving on and starting over, I second-guessed why I would leave them behind. Why uproot myself? There was no good reason. What if neither a place nor its people would define my happiness, and what if I let my blood type, my attitude flow with – and not toward – the greatness I desired?
I started to think of today’s return to Berlin as v2, trying again, another chance with a refreshed attitude and more clear understanding of what I’m walking into. For a few weeks, I’ve intentionally left open a tab on my browser; Brad Feld’s blog reminded me to Simply Begin Again, a concept also familiar from a guided meditation that I – and Brad – discovered this fall. Probably there are scenarios in life where it’s too late to start over, but this isn’t one of them. I’ve passed through one valley, and I’m back on the trail, hiking familiar terrain with fresh feet, clean socks, and a different vision for what benches to rest on in the forthcoming moments.