Thursday, August 19, 2010

Failing Forward

Last night I dreamed that I was in a little shack at a retreat by the ocean.  It was situated between two mountains and nestled among the rocks that lined the stony shore.  Inside, I was chatting with Eric McCormack about acting.  (He's in Vancouver this summer doing a play and is best known for his role on "Will and Grace" which I watch religiously, even in reruns, for comic relief.  So it's not surprising that he would be in my subconscious.)  I don't remember the specifics of our discussion in my dream but I do remember that, at a certain point, it was time for me to pack up my boys and head back home.  Only outside, the ocean had suddenly been hit by a massive storm.  The waves were as high as apartment buildings and, despite the fact that everyone encouraged me to hop on the next boat, it didn't feel at all safe to go back in.   So I stayed in the little shack to protect myself from the storm.

As I stood sheltered in one of the rooms, I noticed above me a small wooden shelf attached to the wall just below where the ceiling should have been.  The shelf separated the main floor, where I was, from the floor above and it reminded me of a lone step in what might have once been a sturdy ladder.  The floor above was where I wanted to be.  So I told my husband (who had just then appeared) that I was going to pull myself up in order to elevate myself to the next level.  But as I grabbed the shelf, it split off the wall entirely exposing the stringy glue that previously held it in place, much like a web of melted marshmallow that becomes visible when a rice krispie square is torn apart.  I tried to affix the shelf back on the wall but it wouldn't take.  I was stuck.

And outside, the storm raged on.

My dreams of late are a stark representation of my long held angst at jumping back in to a career that once seemed to spit me out of the exclusive "working actor" club to which I once belonged.
This feeling isn't new to me.  Rather it is one that comes up for examination again and again and again.   It's no secret that I have a tremendous fear of failure.  It's one of the main reasons I stepped away from the biz in the first place.  I just couldn't seem to pull myself up the ladder to success and I couldn't stand to watch myself stumble around on the ground floor while others climbed ahead of me achieving their goals.

But if I am ever to transcend this floor of the shack, if I am ever to achieve my own goals, it might be high time that I take a good long look at failure right in the face - a face that, from my point of view, has always been scarred with the marks of doubt and self-criticism with a liberal dose of fear entrenched in its deep scowl lines.  It has stared me down many times in life, like a bully with rotting teeth who spits when he speaks and acts as a barricade between my well placed intentions and my ability to commit to my goals 100%.  Given this identification with failure, it is no surprise that it has always been the proverbial "F" word to me.   What is becoming increasingly clear is that I need to find a new definition of the word.

So I have borrowed one from my very dear friend, Rebecca, who learned it during her youthful days when she first embarked upon a very successful improvising career and it has served her well ever since.  Rebecca swears by the term, "Fail Forward."  She is very emphatic in telling me that failure is not the "F" word I have always thought it to be.   It's not a bad word, nor should the experience be avoided at all costs.  According to my wise friend, failure is the fastest way to learn.  It is only an indication that we have gotten off track somewhat.  And it is through trial and error that we make adjustments to get back on the path we want to be on.   So the question during an experience that did not meet the intention we set for it should not be "How did this happen?" but rather "How is this perfect?" or "How is this serving me?"
Rebecca believes that failure is an offered shortcut to learning.  It's a way to become more conscious about how we create in our process.   In other words, if you don't fail you don't find balance because if all you ever did was succeed, you wouldn't know how you did it and therefore, you wouldn't be able to continue to create it.   It's just a matter of re-programming until you can see failure as the beginning of success, not the beginning of the end.

So here's what I've come up with:  If I'm going to fail, then I will fail heading in the direction of my dreams rather than sitting on the side lines wishing I had participated.  I will move the story forward.  I will be proactive.   At least then, there will be progress.  Then whatever happens is life experience rather than a series of perceived failures.  And this is the point I try to get through to myself most of all these days:  Taking action every day toward fulfilling a dream is living the very dream itself.

I'm not going to lie, I want to have a series.  I want to have incoming voice work and stimulating roles on shows and films.  I want to work in theatre again.  I want to sharpen my skills so that when directors, producers and other actors think of me it is with admiration and confidence that when I show up, I will do right by them; That their story will be better off because I participated in it.  I also want to earn my living by doing this.  I am done with the starving artist mentality.  I want to prosper.  The trick is believing all of this is happening for me (not possible but happening) and that each audition is a part of it, not a reminder that my old definition of failure is inevitable if I don't land a particular part.

Friends, I just can't escape this fork in the road I am faced with again at this time in my life.  One direction will lead me down the road of repetition of the tiresome belief that I am doomed to suffer in poverty and the other will take me down a path previously conceived in my psyche but not yet fully actualized:  The path of trusting that I am good enough.  Nothing else matters.   It matters only that I remove these self-imposed and well preserved shackles in my battle with struggle and don instead a lighter frock which allows for easier movement forward.  And the motion must be generated from my core.  Because where ever I go, I take myself with me.  (As Rebecca says, "There is only here with a T on it.")

So I must be kind to my inner travel mate, re-program my visual and move forward down the good path.  Because today, I am here.  But if I keep going, who knows where I will be tomorrow...

Thank you for joining me in the quest for bliss,

The Happiness Detective


KJ Konkin said...

Seriously, our journeys are so similar, I'd almost think you had a spy cam mounted in my house.

You'll have to watch my most recent KJ's Life Experiment epi where I talk about auditions and failure and a brand new experiment I'm gonna try. Like a video version of your post above...

So are you in? Wanna fail our faces off together?

KJ Konkin said...

Oh, here, let me try hyperlinking the link:

KJ's Life Experiment - Episode #16

Sébastian Hell said...

Still inspired. Thanks.