I was at Thankgiving Dinner with family and friends last night, bemoaning the life of a teen mom, when my good friend Dolly said, "I'm having to train myself out of using Well, actually on my own daughter."
I must have looked confused, because she finished, "You know, well actually aren't you thankful that you had so much time with your sweet pup before he died."
Or well actually, you'll have another opportunity to try out for that team next year."
I thought about all the ways that I use this same strategy on myself. Well, actually I should be really happy that I had that successful pitch with the literary agent (even though it didn't work out in the end). Well actually, I had so many good years with my dad before he got sick.
Well, actually is a way we, particularly women, try to mitigate the pain we feel over loss.
Don't get me wrong; it's great to not take oneself too seriously. None of us like to fail or lose something--or someone--we love. But when we try to redirect attention too quickly away from our pain, or our children's pain, we miss an opportunity to really feel what it means to not get what you want.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Life over the holidays slows down a bit, and over this weekend, I've been realizing how upset I am about my failures. Case in point, I turn 40 this June, and I really believed I would have my first novel published by now.
Now look, I'm not wallowing. I'm busy at work on my third manuscript. In the class I'm currently taking, a NY Times bestselling author recently told me she had to write twelve books before her first was published, so I know I'm in good company. (Well actually, you've come far in such a short period of time. You published in local mags. You're starting your own podcast. You've even had someone ask for your full novel before saying no.)
But rejection--failure--stings. I cry. I feel utterly hopeless.
Why is this valuable you might ask? One word: resiliency.
I counsel my students (and sometimes their parents) to do this very thing. Fail often! I love to say. I'm not sure they understand that I speak from a place of experience. I haven't got it all figured out yet. I have two children who stump me on a weekly basis. I still haven't written that business plan. As an artist, I've been rejected hundreds of times. Celebrated, only a handful.
Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude. This year I'm thankful for my failures, for all the things that aren't working in my life. For eating too many carbohydrates and gaining that extra five pounds back. For not pulling off the birthday party my youngest son wanted. For forgetting sooooooooo many things. For that really personal rejection letter. And not reaching all of my career goals.
Sometimes tears are the only companions on a lonely journey. I'm welcoming mine.
Coranna Adams is a writer, filmmaker, and educator from Asheville, North Carolina.