The Shadow of Failure

“I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publisher’s desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way.”

–Gail Godwin

Tell me about a time a failure paved the way to a new beginning.

19 thoughts on “The Shadow of Failure”

  1. Wynne Preston

    Waltz with Me
    By Wynne Preston

    Waltz with me,
    and there will be no tomorrows
    Or yesterdays,
    Only this moment right now.
    Waltz with me,
    And all will be well.

    Waltz with me,
    And there will be nothing but hopeful tomorrows
    And nostalgic yesterdays
    All packed into this moment right now.
    Waltz with me,
    And all will be a Holy Trinity of time and space.

    Waltz with me,
    And let the part of us
    That remains untouched by our yesterdays
    And holds no investment in our tomorrows,
    Or even our right nows,
    Join together as one.
    Waltz with me,
    And all that we are, will be all that is.

    If my relationship with my fiance hadn’t failed back at the age of 26, I would never have moved to Oregon three years later, where I would, at the age of 30, meet the man who is now my husband. On May 3rd we will celebrate 21 years of marriage.

    I left California feeling a bit like a failure, because the California I grew up in, which provided a magical life for a child in a middle class family, had become unobtainable. In fact, many of those living in my old neighborhood were now independently wealthy, and I was stuck living in Sacramento. No offense to those living there, it just didn’t fit at all for me. Plus, living just a few hours from where I desperately wanted to be living made things even worse. Like the brass ring was in sight, but always out of reach.

    The move to Oregon was scary as hell. However, having been a military kid, it was a familiar kind of scary and one I knew I could get through.

    “Through to the other side!” Said the very enthusiastic woman who had become my minister upon hearing that I’d met someone after having been drug to a line dancing class. “You danced through your fear to the other side, where you found more of yourself!” She was old enough to be my mother and so we had a bit of a mother/daughter kind of relationship going on at that time.

    And she was right…..or, I should say “correct” That is because I’m terribly dyslexic and sometimes “right” was wrong, even though it felt right to me (hee hee). Dancing was important to my husband. It was something that helped him to heal from the divorce from his first wife. It is also something he is very good at. Unlike the woman who was to become his new wife.

    Learning to dance, especially couples dances, felt a lot like living in Sacramento at first, but worse, because in Sacramento I was still able to be successful in other areas of my life, like my schooling (got my Master’s Degree there), work and friendships. However, I pretty much felt awful all the way around when first learning to dance with my husband.

    “I’m sure jealous of your husband” someone said to me recently.

    “Are you fucking kidding me???” I thought to myself before turning around to face the man I thought was daring to hit on me at a table full of other couples.

    But then I saw who it was. “He sure can wiggle his butt!” said the man in the cowboy hat who was a fellow dancer. “I’ve learned a lot of moves, but that’s something that just can’t be taught.”

    “He could wiggle his butt while changing the oil!” I laughed.

    I joke that, about my husband people say: “He’s such a good dancer!” and about me they say, “And you’ve come so far!”

    Couples dance lessons are basically couples counseling set to a beat. And for me it’s like couples counseling where the therapist agrees with your partner 80% percent of the time. In fact, when he makes a mistake I shamelessly shout “It’s YOUR fault!” as I do a little jig. And while I’ve come a long way, just the other night I was almost in tears when listening to our very wonderful dance instructor talk to me about how, with both my West Coast Swing and my Rumba I keep getting ahead of the beat.

    “Stop trying to help! You’re always trying to help him by speeding ahead to the next move! He may not even know what that’s going to be yet!”

    “It’s called hyper-vigilance” I explained.

    “Yes!” she said enthusiastically, “that’s it!”

    Then, with a little more sensitivity, she added, “My instructor once told me ‘Practice mindfully, dance mindlessly’…..easier said than done, I know, but if you keep practicing, you’ll get there.”

    And I’m finally learning to relax and trust that I don’t always have to know what’s going to happen next and that the feeling of someone else having control over my body, moving it this way and that, can lead to magical experiences of oneness and intimacy, even when I step on his toes.

    1. Wynne, I love your description of partner dancing as couple counseling with a beat. And how you’ve made your way in Sacramento, despite it not being the place you wanted to be. You make me want to take dance lessons!

    2. Practice mindfullness and dance mindlessly … what a lovely philosophy! Thank you for the poetry you sprinkle throughout your storytelling. ::-)

    3. You want to dance with me
      I want to dance with you
      Yet when I turn around
      You disappear into the wild blue

      Into the wild blue what?
      What triggered you? What set you off?
      We have to look at that.
      No problem – let’s look for a clue!

      The juggernaut of self will …
      Had to go to Webster’s
      “a blocking agent”

      What was it? What came to mind?
      A vision? A snapshot in time? A smell?
      Don’t you just want to scream ….
      “WHAT THE HELL!”?

      The fear of looking again, is seeing, of feeling,
      Of finally getting that I am so loved …
      and moving away from the arrogance of self criticism and believing that I am worthy of receiving that grace,

        1. Moving from Fear into Favor … indeed a journey worth the effort – thank you Laura

  2. I thought I wanted to be a nurse. A friend was a candy-striper in high school, so I became one. I had been involved in medical issues all my life due to my mom’s rheumatoid arthritis, so it seemed a natural thing to do. In the 22 years before her death at 44, she had 16 surgeries, often couldn’t move, needed help washing and brushing her hair, and had to have someone else open her prescription bottles. My 8th grade Science Fair project was about Rheumatoid Arthritis with hand drawn diagrams and illustrations showing the bad cells eating the good ones.

    Once I could drive, I drove Mom to her Arthritis Foundation meetings where I stayed and listened, drove her to doctor’s appointments and picked her up after surgeries. Even though I took care of her, seeing the stitches, shots and bandages wasn’t pleasant.

    I figured my life would continue in care taking, so I signed up for pre-nursing classes at the University. I had done fine in high school chemistry and biology, so I thought I’d be able to handle the heavily science-based workload.

    While I had had practical experience in much of what nursing entails, even observing several surgeries as a candy-striper, being the first in my family to go to college meant I was not prepared for the change of studying and work required at that level. In high school, I earned good grades, but usually delayed studying for a final until the few days before, or writing essays for my second period class in first period. There were no “college skills” offered, so I went into college using my regular, bad study habits. It didn’t hep matters that I met my future husband my freshman year and studying had to compete with dating.

    I managed to get by until Microbiolgy, when I discovered to my dismay that I couldn’t memorize 150 microorganisms and their characteristics the week before the final. That grade, plus some of the other “getting by” grades, meant that I was not accepted into nursing school for the following year.

    What was I going to do? It was the end of my freshman year and I didn’t want to take five years to finish school. The only option was to change majors. My boyfriend and I picked up the majors catalog started searching. It had to be something that accepted the classes already taken. Finally, he suggested Early Childhood Education with a second major in Child Development.

    I changed my major in the fall and discovered that the new classes were a perfect fit. I remembered that I enjoyed teaching and explaining things. Creating lesson plans was mentally stimulating, figuring out the combination of facts, practice and entertainment, because all good teaching includes a sense of the showman.

    I graduated in four years, taught preschool and Kindergarten, began our family, and continued my education with a Master’s degree. My husband and I started a software company producing award-winning educational programs. A portion of my Master’s thesis was even included in one of the manuals.

    The joke came later as my children started having the usual childhood cuts and gashes. I found I couldn’t handle the sight and had to have my husband take them for stitches or apply the band-aid. Maybe it was a good thing after all that I didn’t continue as a nurse.

    1. Stacy,

      I loved the end of this story–your thesis ending up in one of your manuals and you not being able to handle the sight of blood. It’s amazing the pathways our lives take, isn’t it?

      Lovely to see your words here today, as always.

      Missing you…Laura

    2. Stacy
      Your mom was blessed to have you in her life. Thanks for as baring a bit of your journey. .Sounds like you found your calling with teaching.

  3. Wynne Preston


    “If I’d been home and gotten your call, I would have called the police, yes, but I would also have driven down to your work, demanded that you come home with me, and then I would have brought the fucking house down!”

    “I know Mom,” she said, “and that’s why it’s probably a good idea that you weren’t home, even though I was asking for you, because I don’t think I was ready for all of that.”

    Instead, her father answered the phone and because she was too uncomfortable to tell him everything, she told him just enough to get him to call (the name of the business owner) which got this person to drive over and talk to (name of his manager, my daughter’s boss) and get her to apologize to my daughter. And while my daughter wasn’t happy with her apology, she was happy with her Dad’s response, which was immediate and firm.

    This was a conversation she and I had about an abuse incident which occurred at her first job,.back in 2016., a job at which, one week later, she gave her two weeks notice. Our conversation took place last night, just after she told me what had actually happened.that day, back in 2016, when she was just 17. Following this disclosure, I gently informed her that while I was, first and foremost, her mother, I am also a mandated reporter, and that I had no choice (unless it was to put my career at risk just at the time that we are paying for her college education) but to call the police the next morning. Jess was all for it. And so call the police, I did.

    But there is more to this story. For this last Fall our daughter started college at our well respected, Community College, where she took a Women’s Studies’ class with a Professor Mindy Stokes, and where she was given the assignment to engage in a liberating act, and to then write a paper about it. Out of the choices listed for a liberating act, the one she chose was to write a letter to a former abuser, not to send, but for her own healing. “And you don’t get to read it Mom!” she’d said to me back in November.

    However, it is something she gladly showed to me this morning, both the letter and the paper about the writing of the letter. For I knew that this would be considered evidence in the way that a diary is, and so I asked for it. Both of my daughters are incredible writers and incredible artists. The latter they got from their father, no doubt about it, but the former came from me, no doubt about it. Due to their learning disabilities and the fact that I am their mother and primary attachment figure, they have both been strongly drawn to pursuing art. However this morning, at the police officer’s request, I emailed both the letter to her former manager (the liberating act) and the paper about the writing of this letter.

    Years ago my daughter begged us to get another dog from our local shelter, but once there, she realized that picking one dog meant leaving all other dogs and cats behind. She balked. “I’m not ready for this.” she told me quite earnestly. However, her sister was, and so was I.

    I sent her home with her father, finished up the rest of the paperwork and took the dog and Jess’ sister, Allyson, to the store to get things like a food bowl, dog bed etc. Once inside I called Jess, because while I didn’t feel good about not taking the dog, I also didn’t feel good about taking him..

    “Okay, we can get the dog,” she said, “but we’re changing his name to Rocky.”

    “Your terms are acceptable.”

    When I got home she read to me something she’d written on her laptop about how “everyone needs to go to their local shelter and adopt an animal!” I was so touched and pleased that she’d found a way to process her feelings, and even more touched that it had been through writing. And while Rocky has been a lot of work, as most rescue dogs are, there are no regrets.

    Perhaps one day I will have no regrets for having encouraged and even enabled her to get her first job at 16 (it’s a small town, my husband and I know the owners and believed her to be starting her first job in good, safe hands). But for right now I feel like a complete failure and I feel betrayed by Life, God and statistics. The latter is because my daughter’s life is statistically set up to be one free of sexual assault. In other words, I did everything right! Victims of sexual abuse (read: me) are more likely to have children who become victims, but I did the work (read: lots of therapy) and married a man who is a great father, a man I am still married to. We raised our kids to speak out, which they do on a regular basis. I know that the latter is why she called home and did all that she needed to do to keep herself safe, back in 2016. But right now I just feel like shit. I feel like it’s all my fault, for having been a victim, causing me to have passed on this legacy to my child. I feel completely helpless to keep my daughters safe. I know that life is not supposed to be safe, but I also know that life should not be all about having to avoid sexual assault and sexual humiliation (there were men staring at my daughter while it happened). I feel sick.

    Deep down I have a glimmer of a sense that something positive will happen from this. Deep down I get that what she wrote has not only helped her to heal but is what will help to bring positive attention (and possibly justice) to what happened back in 2016 and to what could still be happening in the state the abuser moved to.

    But for now, I just feel like shit. Thanks for listening.

    1. Wynne,

      I’m glad to have provided the space for you to get this story out. If only we could protect our children from….well, everything. But unfortunately, we can’t. Even if we do everything “right,” there is dysfunction in the world and women are still harassed and abused regardless of how much therapy we’ve done. I’m so sorry this happened to your daughter.

      The fact that she’s already written about this and spoken out speaks well for her healing process. She’s on the road to resolving this terrible experience–and she has something you didn’t have when you were young–your belief and support.

      But it sounds like you also have your own retraumatization to deal with.What happened to her is not your fault, and the unfortunate fact that it did has been a painful trigger for you– and I think the way you’re blaming yourself may represent a new trailhead for you–a marker of a place where the next layer of healing may be on the road for you.

      I wish you the best Wynne, and your daughter too. Modeling how to face and resolve your own distress in this difficult time is one of the best things you can do for her now.

      Wishing you both healing and courage.

      1. Wynne Preston

        Thank you, yes, I have been doing some therapy work with horses and what you wrote about my self-blame is right in line (Just now I started to spell “write” instead of “right,” made me smile) with what was coming up last week with them. I appreciate your words, and this forum.

        Sometimes you live a lifetime in one day. Out of all the times I’ve made an abuse report, it has never been for one of my own children. But I am actually proud and relieved of how well Jess is doing.

  4. Failure is part of the human experience. No one is immune from it, not even the great ones. The most important thing is how to let “failure pave the way to a new beginning.”

    I remember that one time early on in my teaching career when I thought I was doing fine, until a student of mine pointed out that she was not learning much from me.

    She and a fellow Vietnamese were my two students in a low intermediate English class for non-native speakers. They were learning English at the time to prepare for their forthcoming academic studies in the university.

    The main objective of the class, among other things, was to develop their speaking fluency. So conversation activities were part of our normal day-to-day routine. These conversations would often follow my grammar presentation. The goal was to practice the grammar focus of the day.

    Perhaps for lack of experience – as I was just a few weeks into teaching (it being my midlife career move) – and owing too to the friendliness of these two nuns before me, I’d be carried away each time we practiced conversations.

    Along the way, we seemed to be enjoying the activities – they’d laugh, ask me questions, and I’d see their eyes in rapt attention. Wow, this is great – I’d tell myself thinking they were becoming more at ease with the language. Our speaking activity would often end up as freewheeling conversations.

    Until one day, one of them seriously, almost annoyingly told me I should be letting them do most of the talking and not them trying to listen to me!

    My cheeks burned in shame, my mind in total shock. Never have I felt a total failure. I thought I was connecting with my students, unaware I wasn’t really facilitating their learning.

    However painful that feedback was, it paved the way for me to shape up, grow and become the best English teacher I could ever be. Whenever I felt becoming complacent or taking things easy, I would always recall that incident – to remind me language teaching should not be all about me, my feelings, my goals.

    That initial failure led me to learn more about language teaching by completing two teaching certificate courses on EFL and attending teachers’ conferences/workshops. I learned to create my own teaching materials so I could better address my students’ needs. I gained a reputation for being a teacher who enjoyed teaching and being good at my field. And all these I owe to that student of mine, who today is one of my biggest fans.

    “Success is not the absence of failure; it’s the persistence through failure.” Aisha Tyler

    1. Marichu, it takes a lot of strength to integrate negative feedback and learn from it. You demonstrate that strength so powerfully in this piece. Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher.

      1. Thanks so much, Laura! Indeed it’s sometimes a challenge to accept negative criticisms when our ego gets the upper hand. But if we focus on our goal to improve and grow, we need to have a great ounce of humility as well.

        Looking for more prompts and great stories from you and other writers here. Thanks for offering your site to be our space as well for our thoughts.

        All the best!

  5. Laura, I was a track athlete as a young man. In my first season I finished last in the most important race of the year. I felt miserable, and I vowed that I would never run a bad race again. I devoted myself to the 800 meter race and worked hard and developed my talent. In a few years I was a champion and set a record for the 800 meters. So perhaps if I hadn’t have failed so badly, I wouldn’t have succeeded so grandly,
    Best wishes, David

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