A Letter to My Future Daughter About Failure

Peace is not in perfection, daughter. Peace is in progress. And that's good news.
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Caucasian girl working in classroom
Caucasian girl working in classroom

Dear (Future) Daughter,

You will fail. It's inevitable. It's your destiny as a human. It's in your DNA. You will fall, you will scrape your knees, and, as my daughter, you will probably lie on the ground, sobbing, saying, "I can't get up!! I just can't!" That's OK.

You're awesome anyway. I believe in you. I believe in you 100 percent. And it can actually be incredibly scary to hear that, I know. Does that mean I believe you have to succeed all the time? No. (See above!) It means I believe in your power to keep returning to the truth, returning to following that little whisper of Love -- over and over and over.

Daughter, I love mindfulness. I really do. The goal of a mindfulness practice is not to stay constantly focused and never wobble; the goal is to notice when you've wobbled, and gently bring yourself back. There's something so beautiful about that, daughter. You can make mistakes, but when the goal is to notice when you're slipping, even if you've slipped miles away, you cannot lose.

Peace is not in perfection, daughter. Peace is in progress. And that's good news. When you're on the bottom, take a step; that's progress, that's going toward joy. When it seems you're at the top, you may say, "Geez, I have all this -- why am I not satisfied?" Tiptoe forward; that's going toward joy. There's no roof. There's no ending. There's no way to coast. You will keep climbing. You will keep searching. You will find -- and then you will come up with more questions, more wondering, more possibilities.

But, Daughter, you cannot screw this up. And I don't mean that in a threatening, "Don't screw this up!!" way. I mean that screwing it up is impossible. There's a ground below your feet. The further you fall, you may say, "Nope, nope, I passed the ground. Definitely not going to be supported. This time around, I'm definitely going to free-fall." You won't. You can't. And the colder you get, the better lukewarm feels. It's all relative, and it's all in your favor.

Daughter, I really, really want to give you the keys to life. I want to step in with my magic wand and long, flowy cape, declaring, "I've got this all figured out. Follow my guidance, and you'll never be hurt." But daughter, you will be hurt. You will feel pain. I don't know how to protect you against that. I don't know how to make pain feel OK. I don't think that's my job. My job is to let you figure it out. To let you fall and learn to pick yourself back up. To figure out which hurts are worth the struggle. Mostly, my job is just to love you through the sour, sticky, icky process.

Pay attention through the process, daughter. Be vigilant for love. Tiptoe toward love, toward your desire, toward even your slightest curiosity, and you cannot lose. Not fully, never permanently.

Maybe because we're not in this alone, and the world needs our success. But we're never meant to succeed alone. We're never meant to be clean and tidy and just go through life applauding each other, only paying attention to the shiny, happy ones, only listening to success stories. No, we're in this mess together. But your successes are the world's successes. Your lessons are the world's lessons.

Daughter, I'm very nerdy. You know this. Daughter, I bet you've heard me say, "Everything is data." Every move, every result, is a lesson for the world. It helps the world learn more about itself, to see which causes create which effects -- and helps us choose better in the future. Daughter, Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better." It follows that to do better, you must also know better. What I mean, daughter, is that we must learn what better is, before we can make the better choice. Making a choice, and then finding out you might have preferred a different choice, is not failure. It's data. So basically what I'm saying is that your data from your failures is just as necessary to the world as any peer-reviewed scientific study. (Just don't tell your science teacher, OK?)

So, daughter, part of the purpose of failure is to be an example. To be an example of what works and what doesn't, but more importantly, to remind the people of the world that they're not alone. I think, just maybe, feeling alone is the worst feeling in the world, daughter. Because your loneliness will tell you not only that you're alone, that no one could want to be around you, but also that because you have loneliness, you're weak. Sometimes my loneliness also likes to tell me it's my strength, just so I'll keep it close. That sly little negative voice will tell you whatever it needs to keep you clinging to it. Daughter, if there's anything you should truly cling to, it's other people. The best thing to hold onto in life is each other. There's really nothing else to do.

When you fall, it's a lesson for the world. No need to hide. No need for shame. And no need to wait until you've gotten back up and can say, "Ta-dah, I'm a success story!" No. In the midst of it, when you're shivering and scared, other people have blankets. Other people can help. They can't help if they don't know you're cold. They can't help if you pretend you're a shiny success story.

Usually, shame exists because people think they're alone. Usually, shame is about feeling unusual and strange and incomprehensibly, inconceivably un-relatable and un-understandable. You're not. I promise you're not.

Daughter, there's no key I can give you. But daughter, you don't need one. Life is hard. Life is messy. But you're not the mess.

Daughter, what I know about failure is that it's not your definition. It doesn't tell you about who you are. It's just correlational data (I hear you, daughter -- "Stop with the psychology metaphors!!!"). But this one isn't even a metaphor. There is no number of failures that cause you to be "A FAILURE." There is no number of successes that can cause you to be "A SUCCESS." You can't earn a success tattoo for your forehead that excuses you from all future pain. Remember in elementary school, when you were given a homework pass for completing 10 assignments? Daughter, sorry, that's not a real life thing.

But the good news is that homework means something totally different than what you might think it does. Homework is learning. Learning is progress. Progress is joy. There are no homework passes in life, because the lessons are all important. The lessons all bring us closer to joy.

So, daughter, you cannot go backwards, and you cannot sidestep. There's only forwards, there's only progress, there's only inching closer to joy. And no matter the battle, in the end, Love always wins.

Loving you always,

(Future) Mom

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