Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wading into the Water

I'm curious how people react when they take a risk that doesn't work out the way they expect it to. What is the range of reaction? Do you curl up in a ball and wait to die? Or fight back with your teeth and elbows and bare hands? Do you pray and try to reach a compromise with your Higher Power? Do you walk away and tell yourself you don't give a shit until you finally don't any more? Or do you lash out and try to hurt somebody? Do you run to your friends and rehash the entire ordeal again and again, picking apart the details, trying to make sense of it? Or do you hold it close to yourself, breathing in the shame of failure like particles of asbestos? I don't think you have to choose one. It seems you could choose all that apply and then fill in the blank if I've left yours off the test.

I recently took a risk that I'd been dreading for months. It felt like going off the high dive at the swimming pool when I was ten, only this one was a mile high. My closest friends didn't think it was a risk at all. They said nothing could go wrong, that I should just plunge right in and then I'd see how silly my fears were. I reminded them I wasn't a very good swimmer. They wouldn't even entertain the notion that anything negative could come from it. They laughed (kindly) at me for worrying, and we made jokes about the ridiculous, unlikely ways things could go awry. They told me I was silly to worry. A couple of them said, "Hey, I'd be glad to swim with you if you want to practice." I said I needed to find my own pond if I was ever going to do it.

I wanted to believe them. These are the people I trust most in the whole world. Of course I wanted to believe them. But they're also the people who love me most and I don't think they see me the way the rest of the world does; certainly they don't see me the way I see myself. And for that I'm grateful. We're all blinded by love, and for the most part, I think that's a wonderful thing. Because it's not so much that we're blinded but that we choose to see the best in those we love. Any list of things I'm grateful for includes the love and support of my friends right at the top. But in this case, it took a lot of encouragement from those loving friends for me to even consider the risk, much less do it.

Eventually I did start to believe them though, and I thought maybe I could do it and maybe it could be OK. Maybe even better than OK. I might actually belong in the water. I might look good in it. Hell, I might even be asked to join the synchronized swimming team. Booyah!

I have to admit, it's not entirely true to say I took the Nestea plunge into the thing I'd been worrying about. If I'm going to continue the metaphor, I'd have to say I waded in, just to get a feel for the water. I didn't jump in feet-first or do a cannonball and splash water everywhere or dive headfirst and touch the bottom with the tips of my fingers. I'm not much of a diver, although I do sometimes swing my feet in strange waters, even in unknown waters. This time though, I did wade in and dog paddle for a while. I even tried a few breast strokes. I was in long enough to think the water felt pretty damn good. Warm. Welcoming. Safe even. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Booyah indeed! And I got out feeling confident about going back in again...soon. I thought eventually I might even take a swan dive, just to show off a little bit and to prove to myself I could. I was positive the synchronized swimming team wanted to sign me up. I was more than ready for synchronized swimming. Give me my rubber cap!

As it turns out the water wasn't as friendly as I thought. Not that there were sharks or electric eels or piranhas circling, smelling blood, ready to tear flesh. No, it was more that I didn't make a splash at all. Nothing. Just...nothing. When I turned around and looked for that inviting, cozy body of water, there was just a puddle there. No synchronized swimming team. No heated pool deep enough for a swan dive. I didn't even leave wet footprints; you wouldn't have known I'd been there.

Turns out my friends were wrong. They didn't know water could evaporate so fast, and they certainly didn't think it would do so after I'd been in it. Oh, how I love them for thinking that. I love them for thinking I'd come up all wet and glistening like Aphrodite on her shell.....but I didn't. I really didn't.

I'm not sure how most people deal with the disappointment of taking a risk and failing, but unlike proud Aphrodite rising from the ocean on her clam shell, I tend to crawl as far as I can into my hard, round little crab shell where I hide and drink my own tears. I can be pretty difficult to reach then, except maybe by one of those exceptional friends at just the right time.

I'm curious though because I'm pretty sure my way isn't the only, or even the best, way to deal with a failure. What do you do? How do you react when you plan to do a risky thing and it doesn't work out the way you hoped it would? Do you get right back out there and try again? Do you turn your back and give up forever? Or do you have other ways of dealing with it?

I'd like to say I'll take a chance on the water again, but at this point, I'd probably have to fall overboard, and that's not likely to happen. For now, I'll keep my feet firmly on the land.


  1. My reaction? I tend to say, "Oh, that water was probably toxic, anyway. Good thing I found out in time." Sour grapes, in other words. Or else blazing anger.

    I'm sorry, my dear friend. You look pretty "glistening" to me!

  2. Funny you should ask...

    I am more of the "hold it close to yourself, breathing in the shame of failure like particles of asbestos" variety, with a little bit of "beat yourself up till your soul turns purple" thrown in for fun. But, while that goes on inside, I keep moving on the outside, trying again, or trying something else, because the only thing worse than failure is *permanent, pervasive* failure. So I keep moving till the walls move. I don't stop until they do.

    I don't know anything, and my thoughts don't really matter, but I have to say that even though things didn't ultimately work out as you would have hoped, I think taking the risk of wading at all sounds like it took serious bravery and strength. There is no shame, no failure in that. (And, I'm learning, there is always strength in words like the ones you wrote. You may be hiding in your little crab shell, but telling the story and sharing the words is evidence of success).

  3. Your thoughts matter, Auto, at least to another purple one. And I am quite purple.

  4. I bury myself in everything else. Granted, I usually have enough "everything else" to get buried in for a long time, so I can just stay busy until I'm ready to even try to catch my breath again.
    It's pretty easy to tell other people to just jump right back in, and on some level, I believe that might help... but I'm not usually one to do it.
    Lots of reassessing. Obsessing. Trying to make it all make sense by thinking it through in every last detail.
    Doesn't really help much, but it's part of that "keeping busy" thing.
    I'm sorry the water evaporated so quickly. I haven't even seen water in a very long time.