On Failing Gracefully

I haven’t blogged in three months.  To be honest, blogging is just another one of the things that have fallen by the wayside while I’ve been making a desperate attempt to keep my life in some semblance of order.  There has been so much going on (I’ll get to explaining why in a moment) and I’ve been trying to juggle so many things that I end up just dropping them, sometimes without even realizing it.  And so, for awhile, I’ve planned to write a post on failing gracefully–because that’s exactly what I haven’t been doing.

As a brief explanation of what I’ve been up to the past couple of months–I started having some stress about work, so I stopped working on my personal projects because at the end of the day, I was exhausted.  I also very suddenly had to move at the end of last month, into a house that needs a lot of renovation work.  I fought with my boyfriend a lot because I was so stressed out.  My dog destroyed my parents’ picture window, because she was also stressed out.  My kid started Kindergarten, so his tuition bills came due, and of course no one’s helping me with those.  To top everything off, I’d been talking about going up to Maine and backpacking for the better part of a year… and because of the move, the trip I’d been looking forward to couldn’t happen.

It’s been a pretty crappy time, to be honest.

Things came to a head the day before I had to sign the lease on the house, when my boyfriend (who is also stressed out because his business has been lagging) made the spur-of-the-moment, stress-induced decision to tell me that he couldn’t help pay the rent and I shouldn’t sign the papers.  The house is my parents’ rental property and they need a tenant to pay the mortgage on it, so if I didn’t sign the lease, my parents’ finances would take a tremendous hit–and they were already mad enough about my dog that I really had to be out of their house.  The only way I could afford the house and the rest of my bills comfortably is if my boyfriend moved in, so when he delivered this news–via Facebook Messenger, in the middle of my workday–I very calmly got up from my desk, locked myself in a stall in the womens’ restroom, wrote him a breakup text, and proceeded to completely lose my cool.

So why am I sharing all of these stressful failures with you, dear readers?  Do I expect you care about my window-eating dog, my parents’ rental house, and my boyfriend’s business ventures?  Not really.  But I do want to upfront and honest about something: I fail at things.  A lot.  And I don’t always fail gracefully.

What does it mean to fail gracefully?  In software, a one-sentence definition might be “averting catastrophe and providing a clear, understandable error message to the user when things go wrong”.  In life?  Perhaps we can emulate software–avert catastrophe, provide error message.  Instead of freaking out every time we fail at something, graceful failure means accepting that particular failure, moving past it, and learning from it.

I picked up a neat project at work, so I’m less loathsome of my office.  I signed the papers and moved into the house–and my boyfriend provided a check for half the rent.  I purchased a couple of radio barrier transmitters for my dog (like an indoor wireless fence), and she’s stopped eating windows.  I have enough money to pay for my child’s education.  None of the things I was so worried about turned out to be terrible–and, deep inside, I probably knew they weren’t going to be.  I allowed myself to catastrophize failure so much that I kept failing repeatedly, like software with no exception handling–the failure bubbled up until I broke down in the restroom.

Looking back on the last couple months, I’m a little embarrassed.  But I’ve tried to fail gracefully at my failure to handle failure–when I get stressed out over the house or work now, I ask myself if it’s really worth getting worked up over.  Most of the time, I realize that continuing to stress about it is counterproductive, and that makes it easier to either take corrective action, or to sit back and let the situation run its course.

For example, renovating the house–I pulled down wallpaper in the living room, and found that the previous homeowner (before my parents) had DIY’d some wiring.  I found this out because he had left gaping holes in the walls and stuck the wallpaper over them.  I’d been ready to paint the wall (the wallpaper had been sealed and painted over previously, but I found an unsealed spot to start peeling it up and couldn’t resist), but suddenly I was set back a week because I needed to patch large portions of wall.  Although I was distraught when it happened, the next day it was funny.  My boyfriend picked up some wall patches and compound on his way home from the office, and I put the wall back together.  Crying about it wasn’t going to fix the wall, so I laughed about it instead and did what I could to solve it.  Now that the wall is patched and painted, you can’t even tell where the holes were.

And so, gentle readers, do not be me.  Next time you experience a failure, take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if things are really as bad as they seem.  Chances are they’re really, really not.