What I Learned The Year I Decided To Fail

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Have you ever felt you were in the movie Ground Hog Day? You know that one where Bill Murray wakes up to relive the same day over and over and over again? That was me one year ago. I wasn’t just stuck in a rut or a hamster wheel. I felt I was tediously living each day repeatedly. I had blocked out my days in strategic chunks; this hour devoted to the kids, this hour focused on writing, these hours set aside for my day job, this hour allocated to meal prep, this hour committed to social media, this hour dedicated to working out…

It was perfect. 

It was monotonous and soul-crushing. But I carried on because it was working so well.

Until it wasn’t. Last fall, both kids needed me more. My daughter was entering her freshman year into a huge public high school, and my son was doing the hard (also soul-crushing) job of applying to colleges. But my days were organized so productively, so efficiently, so PERFECTLY. How was I going to fit this new paradigm into my perfectly curated days?

That’s when I remembered an audience member coming up to me after one of my speeches. She told me the part on how to help your daughter get out of her perfectionist tendencies spoke to her. She was the perfectionist and was modeling these bad habits to her daughter. 

Was I falling into the same trap? Was I hiding behind the guise of productivity and efficiency when, in fact, I was instead channeling my inner, card-carrying perfectionist? Was I modeling bad habits? Was I being caught up in our culture’s need to be always busy? 

I didn’t know, but something had to give both for my kids and my psyche. So I decided to walk the talk and just stopped…doing. 

The first thing I did was look at all the areas of my life that were giving me stress, overwhelm, and pressure and, as long as it didn’t pay the bills or support the family’s daily life, I decided to drop the ball. 

Yes. Literally, stop doing it.

This was effectively like shaking a snow globe. Although challenging, I wanted to try to observe where I failed. See where it felt OK to fail and where it hurt. I am the furthest thing from a quitter. I have been described as a pit bull more than once. That didn’t work? No problem! Try it this way! Didn’t work again? OK, let’s try something else! Go, team! So I have to admit this felt a little terrifying and a little radical. 

Instead of trying something new and improved, or work in some new productivity strategies, I was just going to stop doing. I felt this was worth it to get a new inner compass on my priorities as well as my satisfaction and joy. 

One year later, I think it worked. I did, indeed discover what I missed and what I didn’t. What was OK not to do and what wasn’t OK to let slip. Not right away, though. It took a few false starts, and it was hard to get over the guilt.  

Social media posts for my business and blog was the first victim. I hated social media. I actually love reading articles other people share. I love the community and the ideas and the camaraderie. But I hated being expected to add to the conversation. I hated that I was expected to do this daily. I realized it was this expectation that was creating the dreary feeling. I enjoyed reaping the benefits of others’ efforts, but I had no joy in contributing. So I stopped cold turkey. What would happen? Would my business dry up? I didn’t know.

This blog was the next victim. I love this blog and the community we have built here. I love researching (I’m inquisitive by nature) and getting my questions answered and helping my and other parents’ daughters. However, I loved the loneliness of writing much less. I’m an extrovert and love being with people. Writing is a solitary act. I didn’t mind writing, especially when I was in the zone or had ‘flow’ as some experts say. (In fact, writing from the heart like this has me totally in the flow right now!) But, again, I didn’t love the expectation of writing every day. Occasionally I would skip daily writing and feel so guilty. So I made the huge decision to stop completely. What would happen to this blog and community that I spent years creating? I didn’t know. 

You are all going to laugh at this next one. I stopped weeding and laundry. Obviously, these activities could not stop. I didn’t want my neighbors to start giving me the stink-eye as the front of the house became overgrown, and laundry has to happen, unfortunately. Sigh. Over dinner, I mentioned to the family that of all the chores, I hated the relentless nature of both. It just never, ever ends. 

My kids knew about my year-long experiment, and they provided some surprising suggestions. My son said he had a friend who was looking for some flexible part-time work as he was saving up for college. Would I be willing to pay someone to weed? Heck yeah! The bonus was it freed up several hours on the weekend where I could help my son with his college applications. 

My daughter and son surprised all of us and said that they needed to learn how to do laundry eventually anyway and maybe they could help for a year. Really? I was worried about how they were going to fit this into their schedules on top of their other chores, but they were determined to help and, quite frankly, they were right about needing to learn this skill, so I relented.

I didn’t just delete. I also added things that I wanted to do more of or missed. More hanging with family and friends. More hikes. More reading. Start meditating and yoga. I also discovered a few new things that I wanted to do. After all the work with my son on college applications and helping my friends’ kids with theirs, I realized that more high-school kids could benefit from an easy step-by-step guide on how to get leadership skills. These skills aren’t just for college apps but will help them in life! So I wrote the FREE resource, FROM LOST TO LEADER 10-day email challenge for teens. If you have a high-school-age child (of either gender), you can check it out here. Again, it’s free! In FLTL, I’ll help your teen (of any gender) discover their purpose, find their leadership style, leverage their strengths, overcome the biggest obstacles to teen leadership, come up with a plan, and start leading tomorrow. This course is chock full of useful info and can be a game-changer in helping your child experience and tell their legitimate leadership story. So if you’re interested, you can check it out HERE.

So what did I learn about myself?: 

  • I felt freer when I was ‘failing.’ It felt good to have fewer expectations of myself. 

  • I’m OK with not participating in our culture of being busy. Busy does not = successful ‘badass.’

  • Side hustles should be just that: SIDE hustles, not crush-your-spirit hustles.

  • I like SOME structure to my days and missed that.

  • I missed writing.

  • I STILL hate social media for business, and my business didn’t die when I didn’t participate.

  • The expectations I was feeling were coming from me, not from the outside world

  • This blog community continued to grow even without me posting for a year.

  • I learned that laundry mistakes happen and that is just fine.

  • I was more present with everyone in my life.

  • I will never weed again if I can avoid it.

  • And both kids learned from me that you could take a break from perfectionist days and the culture of being busy and the world doesn’t end.

So what am I doing now?

Structure to the day. With no fabric to my days, I felt like I was a bit disorganized. However, I loved how spontaneous I could be if there were a last-minute work demand or the kids needed some extra driving, counseling, etc., or a volunteer opportunity arose. Could I marry the two? I’m now attempting a batching strategy. We’ll see if it works. Instead of writing Every. Single. Day., I’ll write several posts one week, edit the next, and do no writing on the third week. I’ll be experimenting as I go along. I want to keep up regular posts, but I’m not going to beat myself up anymore if I miss one.

Social media for business. I don’t think I can avoid this, but I did survive for almost a year! I asked my daughter if she wanted to do it for me as a job. Luckily for her self-care, she feels the same way about social media as I do. Unluckily for me, she, therefore, said no. I still don’t have an answer here. I might be procrastinating, or I might just be kicking and screaming. Yup. Kicking and screaming, I think.

One last note. With every soul-sucker that I gave up and all of the whole-hearted activities I’ve added to my life, I feel like I’m OK with laundry again. I don’t know how long that feeling will last, but for now, laundry and I are back on good terms.

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