If you want to feel closer with your spouse or friend, there is nothing quite as satisfying as being angry at something together – it’s the opposite effect of being angry at each other. Whether it’s sports related, someone you agree is being a jerk, or something in the news that’s annoying, having something to share anger over is amazing. Two weeks ago my wife and I had this after she found an article in the newspaper – it was pretty great. I’m very thankful this conversation also gave me a reason to think through the topic of failure and led to three articles about it including this one… thankfulness being something we should always be striving towards to have a successful life.
Before I discuss the article (and look like a jerk), I want to consider a few points about failure. First, I’ve worked with good people who were so beaten down from life that they hoped they wouldn’t wake up the next morning. They didn’t want to kill themselves, but if they were diagnosed with cancer they’d be okay with it because that would be an out. Having an experience like this doesn’t mean you’re failing at life; it means you’re burnt out. It’s your body’s way of screaming something needs to change. Typical options that get someone here include doing too much, being too focused on work and missing out on life, sacrificing too much to help others, not connecting with good people, or not connecting to nature or God. Best rule in mental health: Listen to what your body is saying and try to address the need it’s warning you about, especially if it’s crying for rest.
Second point: Two weeks ago I mentioned the idea that how we live determines whether we are consider to be a “failure at life” or to “pass at life” when we die and before that we are a “failure in process” or a “pass in process.” What’s important to realize is that you can still pass with failing moments and you can still fail with passing moments just like good people can have bad moments and bad people can have good ones; it’s more about what outweighs the other. For instance, if you regularly drink and drive, but give $10 to charity, you’re still a bad person because the former outweighs the latter. The hope is over our lives we grow our good actions and reduce our bad ones. Notice, I wrote “actions” and not “intentions”? There’s a reason we have the saying, “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.” If you don’t do anything good, it doesn’t matter if you “intended” to do them – you’re still a jerk. You can’t tell someone bleeding to death, “I’m thinking of helping you. Since it’s the thought that counts, I guess that’s good enough. Have a great day.” It’s what we do that defines us while it’s what’s in our hearts that determine whether we can find happiness. Of course, if we have terrible actions, it’s impossible to find peace in our hearts, but if we have good actions we at least have potential for finding happiness. Good actions can lead to having a good heart and a good heart will naturally have good actions.
A third point: From a practical sense, good actions also lead to being financially stable. Unless you’ve been messed over from investing with someone like Bernie Madoff or your house was blown up because of a crazy Russian, you should be able to financially support yourself. Following the cliché, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” every child growing up in Canada is given the chance to know how to fish and feed themselves for a lifetime. Unlike some other countries, we have free education. If you don’t take advantage of that, that’s a serious fail that will affect you the rest of your life. What’s crazy is in Canada, even if you fluff away high school, there are still government programs to teach you a trade or you can simply start working a job and work your way up (although if you can’t do decent in school, there’s a high chance you’ve developed a habit of not showing up for your responsibility or have much of a work ethic). I once met a guy who spent 10 years doing spray foam while saving for his own truck. He then started his own business that now makes him over a million dollars a year. There are so many ways to set yourself up to have a career that gives financial stability; it just takes work, time, and good choices… and that’s the problem for so many young people who are apathetic and don’t want to do the work. We are so blessed to be in Canada, but some people would rather play a victim and demand handouts instead of being a contributing member of society even though the best thing for our mental health is to be fruitful with our time and actions.
A fourth point: Three weeks ago when discussing the idea of passing and failing at life, I compared it to being in a class where we can pass or fail. Taking this a step further, sometimes when you get a bad mark it’s because the teacher misunderstood something you were doing. For instance, in grade 10 I had a history essay receive a 64%, but after talking to the teacher and pointing out that he missed what I was trying to do in a very polite way (he clearly didn’t put a lot of effort into reading it), I walked away with a 94%. The same thing can happen in life: At first it can look like a fail, but it can actually be good. How is that possible? There is good in all things. Two weeks ago when I claimed my wife’s dead grandma failed at life (something that sounds pretty terrible), even in that there is good. For instance, it can be used as a teaching tool to help others not make the same mistake. My dad passing away when I was 25, one of the hardest things I’ve had to endure, was the greatest life lesson I’ve ever received. It took a good year of settling into the new reality of life without him, but it was seeing this good that turned what first appeared to be a fail moment into a pass. That’s the trick; sometimes we need hindsight to see the good in things. Of course, it’s easier to see good when we keep moving forward and not just give up. It’s a lot easier seeing good when we find a way to make lemonade when life gives us lemons.
Looking at my life, there are many things people might consider failures that have worked out because they have helped mold me to who I am today. One of the biggest parts of my life I thought was a fail for about four years after it ended was my eight year stint as a youth pastor. After losing my second position because the church couldn’t afford me I had a lot of anger at God for putting me on that path while I also beat myself up for not having had a real job that had real pay all those years, so I could be in a better financial position. During that time I would’ve said being a youth pastor was a major fail, but now I see it as one of the greatest blessings in my life because it was eight years of having fun (there were some really amazing things I got to do), I made some great relationships, and I got in the routine of giving weekly lessons, which is a major reason I do weekly blogs now. These weekly blogs are the most important thing I do for processing topics and being a better therapist. I might have a handful of people who read them (thank you for being one of those), just like my books (even fewer read those), but I write because it’s good for me and makes me a better person. If it helps others, that’s just a bonus. By finding good in the situation, I made what at first looked like a fail become a win.
This leads me to the article that inspired my discussion of failure. The good news is no matter how badly the people in the article are failing, they can always turn things around. They can make their lives better. There is hope… but right now they are screwing up hard, and they don’t seem to realize it. The newspaper article was written to discuss the struggle for housing in Hamilton for people with lower incomes while trying to create a sob story about a family. What made me angry is this article should’ve been about how amazing Good Shepherd is – Thank you Good Shepherd for being so amazing. For instance, they kept the family the article centered around from being on the streets – that’s pretty incredible. We are so blessed to have organizations like them. So my positive brain wants to praise Good Shepherd and the people who work there (people who aren’t paid very much) while also wanting to shake the family the article is centered around to wake them up to how terribly they’re living. How bad are they? Let’s consider some of the details: A 25 year old mom of a two and four year old on government assistance because of her anxiety were living with her 45 year old mom and her 47 year old boyfriend in a small apartment until they were evicted because they didn’t pay their rent. The 25 year old mom was quoted saying, “I feel like I’m failing my children.” The author of the article was clearly trying to make readers feel bad for her, but my response was, “You feel that way because you are.” It’s that simple. I don’t mean to sound harsh, that’s definitely not my intention, and I’m not writing out of judgement. I’m simply trying to share a fact, and the fact is these three adults are failing. Again, that doesn’t mean they are “failures”; it just means they need to turn things around, which starts by accepting responsibility for their actions, so they can be better. For instance, to be evicted for not paying rent means they hadn’t been paying rent for months and owed thousands of dollars. It also means they didn’t talk to the landlord to come up with a payment plan to get back on track; they just didn’t pay. What I don’t get is how in an apartment of three adults can you not pay your $1400 rent? Even if one of them was on CERB, they’d be fine… if they used their money properly. When they didn’t pay the rent, my guess is they didn’t give up buying booze, pot, cigarettes, or fast food because not a lot of victim minded people are willing to sacrifice their wants in hard times; they want handouts. This follows the grandma’s attitude as she claimed she hopes her grandkids will forget about their year of living at the Good Shepherd. That’s the opposite of what should happen. She should be reminding the grandkids every day about how lucky they are to live in Canada and have groups like the Good Shepherd to get them back on their feet, and it’s their job, now that they’re on their feet, to learn how to walk and then run on our own. This family should be inspired to work harder and smarter in order to give back to the Good Shepherd so they can help more people in need. You’re supposed to be given help in order to help others in the future.
There are many thing that bothered me about this family, but the one that stands out is based on the grandma’s age, she would’ve been 19 when she got pregnant with her daughter, so then why didn’t her daughter learn from her mom’s mistake and not get pregnant at 20 and then 22, especially when there’s no mention of a dad or child support? My wife’s one rule for marriage was to find someone who’d be a good dad because that’s what kids deserve – kids deserve two loving parents. Before you become a parent, you should be setting yourself up to be the best parent you can be, which includes trying to make a strong marriage in order to have two capable parents who are financially able to support yourself – kids aren’t supposed to fulfill some need in you. Before her kids were born, she failed them because she didn’t prepare herself to be the best mom and wife she could be for them. Kids are a big responsibility and we should take that responsibility very seriously.
So what in general is a fail? Anything that we don’t actively try to work out to be a positive in our life. It also includes not keeping people responsible for their actions and enabling them to continue being failures in process. If people aren’t held accountable, how will they improve? And what is a success? Anything that we can use to inspire us to be a better person and help those around us to be better people. This includes properly disciplining our kids, which is something I’m working on because I struggle with being a pushover and being as strong as my girls deserve in order to help them be better people. Getting what they want now might shut them up, but it won’t help them be better people in the future or better children for me to contend with as they get older. Everyone needs to be told “no” once in awhile and left figuring out how to deal with feeling angry or sad – those feelings are part of life and not something that should scare us to have or see, which requires them to be experienced.
This week may you consider how you can be a better person.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)