Staring Down the Dog
You know that one failure, the one that comes into your mind at the most unpredictable times, and catches you off guard like a barking dog, right when your about to open a door?
We all fall short, every one of us. Some people are able to bounce up after being leveled by failure faster than others. Some never quite make it back to a standing position. What is most devastating is how many times a past failure limits our ability to open the next door, even if there is no real barking dog, just the anticipation of one. Past failure can paralyze us when the next opportunity presents itself. I have experienced this for years.
Several years ago I had a professional failure that stunned me. It came out of nowhere and hit me square in the gut. It took me several years until I could stand up straight again, so to speak. Most importantly, it was the voice that kept my dreams at bay. I would think about the pursuit of an aspiration, and then instantly become disappointed when I realized how my past failure had defined me.
Of course, I kept this all to myself. Most of us do.
Two years ago my husband and I went on a beach vacation. In the middle of sun and cabanas we found ourselves sitting next to another American couple, a pastor and his wife. We shared funny stories and swapped restaurant reviews. We even realized we knew some of the same people from our college years.
Somehow, on a beautiful and peaceful beach, thousands of miles from home, I stared down the barking dog.
We were talking vocations, and the pastor asked me a very poignant question: what do you love about being a doctor? I don’t know why, but his harmless question suddenly revealed this deep sense of shame tied to my professional failure. As Brene Brown says “When perfectionism is driving…shame is always riding shotgun.” This professional failure was clouding my ability to even feel authentic answering the question. I loved being a doctor and I could easily list why, but for some reason, I felt honesty boiling up in me. I shared with this man and his wonderful wife how I loved practicing medicine, but this setback really still bothered me, and that being a doctor wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
He didn’t pass it off and ignore it. This man was on vacation, and yet he heard me. While I was upbeat and positive, he heard the sadness and defeat in my voice, even though I was smiling externally. He looked at me and said, “Can I pray for you? I would like to.”
He prayed for me, and spoke wisdom to me. It was simple and yet profound. He asked God to remove the shame and guilt associated with my failure, and to stop it from limiting my future. Even now as I type this, it is very hard to explain. I can still hear the ocean and feel the tears on my face as I released all the guilt and shame associated with the event.
I realized how much I had been holding on to my failure and the shame associated with it like a brick. And at that moment, I suddenly felt 10 pounds lighter. I did not plan on coming to this realization on a beach where I was trying to forget all my shortcomings. And I am not saying that letting go of our failures and past mistakes has to be a monumental event. While I had been worked through this incident for years, my experience on the beach was unique, simple, and yet powerful. I had spent years ruminating and thinking of what I could have done differently, a million “if only’s”. Perhaps you can relate.
This event brought me to where I am today. I am forever grateful to these wonderful people who in one powerful hour, helped me become brave enough.
Do not be afraid to release whatever barking dog is keeping you from opening the next door. Stare that dog in the eye. Face him, and then open the door and walk inside.
I bet you won’t hear him anymore.