The Subtle Art of Failure

The Subtle Art of Failure

Guest post by Natalie Lock

Let’s talk about failure. A few weeks ago, I stepped out of my comfort zone and submitted a poem to a magazine for the first time in almost 20 years. Beforehand, I shared that poem with a friend whose opinion I valued and respected, a fellow woman who has also struggled in losing parts of herself in the transition into motherhood. That needs to be spoken word, she texts me back, too amazing just for paper. Really moving.

There is a little of me that thinks she is fibbing to bolster my ego, but I accept it as part of the ritual of friendship. The other side of me: the non-humble, fearless artist is impressed with myself. I am confident in the words I have written and happy that they represent my authentic experience as a mother. I was proud to submit.

I get about my life as always: practicing gratitude. I write my manifestation very clearly on a slip of paper for my jar. Specific. Right down to the issue number of the publication I want this poem to appear in. I know the universe has me. The slip of paper in the jar, the poem in my sent box, I go back to my life mantra: and, when you want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen.

On Easter Monday the poem was rejected.

This rejection I shifted my mindset. I became convinced that I would never be a poet and that I had no right even thinking that I ever had been, although I have a folder full of amazing poems that might tell you otherwise. It wasn’t just the poem though, my novel creaking very slowly into motion, after many years of wishing I were brave enough to just write, well, that was rubbish as well.

Who was I to write a book, or to even write at all? What did I think I had to give to the word, that no one else could? I was too old to write a book and too jaded, all the creativity has been sucked out of me by life. I am tired and I am a mum now, so I have no time.   

All those good, proud exhilarating feelings of the weeks before, destroyed in a moment. Undone, ten steps backwards, more fearful than I was before to put pen to paper and get myself out there.

I have been wanting to write this blog for a while and diligently working on an open letter called “Consuming Love” in which I talk about my deep-rooted desire to write romance fiction. It was a coming out of sorts and it is now sitting in my to-do pile, almost finished but abandoned by fear.

My mind says this: you will never write a blog worth reading.

The liar that lives in my brain will file this rejection alongside the A Level grade I didn’t achieve in 2001; the boy who I was too scared to kiss in France when I was 15; that amazing job opportunity I did not get just before I fell pregnant and all the other lies, I use to keep myself from taking more chances. Years ago, this would have stopped me from writing for months. It would conspire to keep me small. It would have made me push down the desire to write, to create, to dream the biggest dream I can imagine and bury myself in the mundane.

But not today.

I have been on a quiet journey through 2020. A journey that really started way back in 2018 but was brought into focus during the pandemic. Last year I found Zenflexion, a spiritual healing and self-development group full of likeminded humans. Mindfully, I am unpacking my troubles on the way to a more fulfilling, loving life. This hub is a beautiful collection of magical souls, who lift each other up and shine their light in the darkness. People who cheer for you and believe in you and dance their Friday nights away with you on crazy silent-zoom-discos.

What I actually did in April 2020 is this: I moped around for a day or two until I was brave enough to uncurl my fear on a friend, who has been my number one fan for most of our adult lives. Her advice is to eat pizza for tea and that she thinks I’m an amazing writer. Her voice reminds me that I think so as well.

I have found the courage to admit my failure in the group and the sadness that has followed me because of it. This is the hard, because I fear toxic positivity and the “good vibes only” tribe.  To my utter surprise, the messages that came back are quick and overwhelming supportive. No Good Vibes Only, just a reminder to trust the timing and focus on my goals, my achievements and to never give up on my dreams.

I eat pizza and I watch a webinar recommended by one of these brilliant women, which bursts onto my screen and reminds me that I cannot trust my own filing system. The brain does not know the difference between real fear and imaginary fear. It is trying to protect me by repeating my perceived failures. It will tell me that it’s protecting my self-worth, but I am living proof that ignoring you desire to create will only cause sadness in the future.

If limiting beliefs are the glass ceiling that we create for ourselves, then I also get to decide when my self-worth bursts through. Life is limitless. I am not determined by my poem being published, or my novel being finished, the worth is in the doing, the being, the living and breathing my most authentic version of myself. I am a writer because I write. And if I want the poem published, I can publish it myself.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

The world can never have too many books or perspectives or poetry. Our experience of the world is as unique, individual and beautiful as we are. Telling stories is a fundamental human truth and I believe we were all born to do. The worth of my words are in the way that they make me feel, so I will not diminish my own value based on other people’s opinions.

I did have a bit of a cry and for the first time for years, I did not feel like such a stranger to myself. I am a writer and I am writing. Not just writing – I am submitting! I am writing my very first blog and pushing through so much fear to be here with you right now.

A message pings into the Zenflexion Hub with a challenge to make a list of all the things we’ve achieved in our lives. The last thing I do in this mood is set a ten-minute timer, take out a pen and paper and write this:

The successes from my failed poem are: I wrote a poem, I shared it with someone who needed a reminder that she is good enough as she is. I connected with people on a personal level. I summoned the bravery to submit something to a proper publisher. I was reminded of a dear soul who means so much to me and always has my back. I was brave enough to admit vulnerability to a bunch of women who responded with kindness, vulnerability, and bravery right back. I was being myself. I am being authentic, I did something (because remember, if we never try, we can never fail). I remembered the joy of writing poetry and how cathartic it can be, I remembered that I won’t be to everyone’s taste and that is wonderful. I watched an amazing webinar and found an inspiring new mentor. I wrote my first proper blog post. Or my second if you count the one that’s 99% done.

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

The powerful thing is that I could have kept going when the timer went off but I did not, because I no longer felt like I failed. To do nothing is to fail, but to do something and not get the outcome you are expecting, well that’s just life. This event inspires me to write a new blog post in a personal record: 1500 words in about half an hour, like I am Carrie in SATC* or, for any millennials reading, Jane in The Bold Type.

I choose to tell myself this: I am the curator of my own life.

It is not new wisdom but if I were to ask you to do one thing right now, it would be to take your last disappointment, set a ten-minute timer and make a list of all the successes that came from it. I challenge you to find the beauty in things that have gone unexpectedly and the magic that you can create amongst the ashes of your expectations.

*Sex and the City

As always if you liked this blog please comment, like and share.

Natalie Lock is a writer, dreamer and mother of three currently working on her first novel. She loves poetry, tea, knitting, kneading bread and long walks by the river. If you want to follow her journey check out her instagram

3 thoughts on “The Subtle Art of Failure

  1. Wow Juli what a great choice to have Natalie as a guest blogger.
    Amazing read and a beautiful story. I could really feel the journey you’ve been on and such growth being shown. Very relatable and excited for the book. Keep going. I loved it.

  2. Great blog Juli I think it’s amazing Natalie is writing and doing poetry. The poem wasn’t published this time but who knows what may happen in the future. Most people don’t try anything because of fear or failure. Keep ahold of your dreams and desires. X

  3. This was a very good read for me and I could relate in the sense of things I tell myself I can’t do and why. Well done for pushing through and fighting your fears. I really enjoyed this blog it has empowered me. Thank you.

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