Friday, July 29, 2011

The Inessential

Someone recently posted a 20 minute Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling on Facebook. It was from 2008 and about the benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination. I found it inspiring, particularly when she stated that "failure meant a stripping away of the inessential."

I loved that turn of phrase, and recognized it as what I've been doing over the last several years. I've learned how to fail, and to be at peace with failure, and to identify what holds meaning for me and what is inessential. Recently I read on Twitter that "success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." I think I would have disagreed with that statement five years ago, and now I agree wholeheartedly with it.

Failure helps us grow. It motivates us to keep going; to find what works when we've exhausted all that doesn't work. It helps us shine a light on our priorities, sifting through what will not last in search of what makes a permanent mark. Failing well has brought me much closer to success than desperately avoiding the barest hint of failure. I no longer aim to be perfect because I know it to be a trap and a huge waste of time and energy. Failure has so much to teach us if we will let it.

I'm longing for the simple now that I am in my late thirties. I want to limit the amount of clutter in my brain. I don't work so hard to distract myself like I did in my twenties from the unpleasant parts of life. There is a whole spectrum of feelings to experience, from joy to devastation and everything in between, and numbing out from these feelings is not the way to my authentic self. I want to embrace who I am, warts and all, and that means facing what used to terrify me and have me running in the opposite direction.

Perhaps, at long last, I am growing up. Some days I'm certain that I'm on the right path, and other days I panic, and don't feel at all prepared for this new person I'm becoming. In fact, she's not so new, as I think I've always been who I really am, but I simply couldn't accept her before this. I am no longer hiding who I am from myself, or from the world, and the resulting vulnerability takes some adjusting to.

I spent too long living with the inessential as a big part of my life. Now I want what brings meaning to me, and to those I love, and I don't want to worry about what used to seem so important before. I want to live in grace, and peace, and to search for joy wherever I can find it. I want to leave the rest behind, like that backpack of stones I have been struggling with for so long. Every so often I stumble under its weight, and realize with some surprise that I have been carrying it when I meant to set it by the side of the road, stand up straight, and walk away.

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