Why failure is a good thing

Yesterday, I read an article by Mark Manson on why not all dreams should be pursued. It struck a cord and prompted me to reflect on my twenties – I recently turned 30.

I had a realization that many of my failures were a good thing.

To get it right, you must first get it wrong.

I spent the second decade of my life in an existential crisis of “what the heck am I supposed to do with myself?” Between ages 24 and 28, I quit the fitness industry – twice. I spent a year applying to grad school, got in, spent another year studying accounting and quit halfway through the curriculum.

I sold books. I sold jeans. I taught at seven different Pilates studios and over a dozen gyms. I went to massage school. I started a business. I dated half of Seattle. I had a lot of boyfriends – too many boyfriends.

It was tumultuous and arguably self-inflicted. I used to wake up and ask myself, “What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this? Why can’t you get your shit together? Why can’t you just be happy damn it?”

In his article, Mark writes about his long time desire to become a rock star that he never fully pursued:

“But despite fantasizing about this for over half of my life, the reality never came. And it took me a long time to figure out why.

I didn’t actually want it.

I’m in love with the result — the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, putting everything I have into what I’m playing — but I’m not in love with the process.”

I didn’t actually want it. I’m not in love with the process.

Those two sentences beautifully sum up what I learned in my twenties.

Before I knew what I wanted, I pursued what I thought I should want.

I desperately tried to eschew a career in teaching movement, which gave me purpose, because it looked so bad on paper and I couldn’t see any upward mobility working for gyms or studios.

I pursued a masters in accounting in hopes of a linear career path that would offer steady income and health benefits and it made me miserable, because it was such a far cry from what I wanted to be doing. Spreadsheets (literally) brought me to tears.

I dated men who checked the right boxes, while ignoring how they made me feel.

Every time I walked away from a job, program or ill-fitting relationship, I found myself disappointed, if not a little devastated, but looking back it was the best possible outcome. I can’t imagine being happy in a life where I stayed on any of those paths.

Love the process.

I spent my twenties trying to figure out what end goal would make me happy and envious of everyone around me (usually people my age with 9-5 jobs) who seemed content and appeared to have found their own solution to my unsolvable problem.

It wasn’t until after I quit accounting school and became an entrepreneur that I figured out the answer.

I was the only person who knew what would give me purpose. I couldn’t learn it in a class, from a seminar or on the job. I wouldn’t find my purpose in a job title or in a paycheck.

I would find it by pursuing something that I felt so strongly about that I would want to stay committed to it, even when things felt hard.

It’s no secret that most fitness professionals don’t make any money and that the burnout rate is huge. It’s also no secret that running a small business is relatively risky and that the failure rate is quite high.

I go into this process with my eyes wide-open. Some days I lament how expensive my life looks and how strange my schedule is. I feel frustrated by having to be on top of so many important and not very sexy details like answering emails, renewing licenses and paying sales tax.

But I also love it.

I love that I spend my days helping and connecting with people. I enjoy the process of painstakingly choosing the best words to convey my message or my information. I love that I have an excuse to listen to business podcasts and study marketing strategies.

I’m grateful that my job offers me endless opportunities to learn and create and that my work fills a greater purpose of helping people. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still wake up every day and continue to do what I’m doing – though I’d probably hire someone to do the administrative work.

Forget the outcome. We don’t know where we’re going anyways.

At 25, I was obsessed with the idea of what I was going to be when I “grew up.” Now I know better.

You are not defined by your job and in today’s economy, it’s unlikely that what you are doing today, you will still be doing in five or ten years.

If you’d told me five years ago that I would be engaged and an entrepreneur by the time I was 30, I would have bet money against it. The idea of running a business terrified me and I couldn’t hold a long-term commitment to an apartment, let alone another human.

You can (and should) plan for the future, but you need to realize that much of it is beyond your control.

You don’t know where you’re going. You won’t always get what you want and sometimes you’ll be better off because things fell apart.

It’s worth considering that perhaps things didn’t work out for a reason.

And in a way, it’s comforting.

It gives you permission to analyze and then let go of the past, turn your attention to the present, ask yourself what really matters and then move forward accordingly.

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