Tag Archives: grief

Not Yet

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill

The State Bar of California released its July 2015 bar exam results over the weekend, which impacted the lives of a large number of people that I know and love. California is famously the last state to release results and the one with the lowest passing statistics (and this year’s was the lowest July pass rate in three decades). This combination produces enhanced euphoria for some and a particularly hard punch in the gut to others. It is a weekend of tremendous highs and tremendous lows, and with friends in both places, I never know exactly how to feel. It is easy to celebrate the good news, but it is those who are hurting who maintain center stage in my mind.

I try to do all the right things: Give time, then reach out, then wait patiently, and then, when engaged, try to be helpful. As a former pastor, grief counseling is familiar territory.

Truth be told, the answer in the end is simple and involves climbing back on to the bicycle or horse or whatever metaphor you prefer to have fallen from and go at it again. “If at once you don’t succeed…” is technical truth, but it takes time to hear it without punching someone.

There is more. Success after failure is even sweeter. I recall an old article that identified resilience as a key characteristic of the most spectacular figures in history who overcame great challenges and failures on their unforgettable journeys. Of course failure can destroy a person, too. But it doesn’t have to.

Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University tells of a high school in Chicago that gives the grade Not Yet as opposed to Fail. I know this makes some people scream, “Kids need to learn how to fail!” Exactly, and then they need to learn how to get back up again. That is the genius of Dr. Dweck’s groundbreaking research on the importance of mindset when facing failure, which she describes as having a “growth” mindset instead of a “fixed” mindset.

How do you respond to failure? Those with a fixed mindset typically take it personally (e.g., “I’m a failure.”) or blame some external factor (e.g., “It’s your fault that I failed.”). Those with a growth mindset respond with “Not Yet” and determine how to improve to reach the goal.

Some Things Are Never Easy

Hell and hill are remarkably similar words, or at least that is my recurring thought as I run what I call “the hill” two mornings a week. To call it a hill is an insult to Drescher Mountain. It is a monster.

From my house, the run begins with a 350’ drop in elevation over a winding two-thirds of a mile, which is a perfectly fine way to begin a 5k run. The kicker, of course, is that it ends with a grueling two-thirds of a mile climb up same mountain.

It was three summers ago when I decided that this hill/mountain/monster must be conquered. I’m not sure why. Temporary insanity leads the polls. But decide I did, and after it I went—slowly. I counted nine fire hydrants along the path, so the strategic plan was to conquer the mountain one fire hydrant at a time.

The first fire hydrant was okay because a person could reach it with a good spit from somewhat level ground. The second wasn’t too bad, but the third made me cry. Four, five, and six required therapy, and I cannot even begin to describe seven and eight—those fire hydrants worship Satan. Fire hydrant number nine and the final stretch run to my house were bad only in the sense that after fire hydrant eight I displayed a remarkable resemblance to a Will Ferrell crying scene.

But I did it. Conquered the mountain.

I’m leaving out an important part of the story. All along, my plan was to do more than conquer the mountain, presuming that continuing to conquer the mountain would lead to some beautiful day when running up that blasted hill would be easy. I thought that was rational.

Rational or not, it was wrong. It has been years since that first glorious victory and it is not even close to easy. It is hard, every single time.

After reflecting on this somewhat depressing reality on yet another morning run, a new thought arrived: Maybe some things aren’t meant to be easy. And maybe that’s okay.

Getting up early for a difficult job, battling a chronic illness, losing loved ones, or even running up a mountain—maybe it would be an insult to the thing itself if it ever became easy.

I’m going to mention my friend, Stephanie, again because she told me about a line in the play Rabbit Hole that compared grief to a brick that you carry around in your pocket: The brick never leaves, but you get to where you don’t notice it so much and, in fact, when you do notice you realize that you don’t want it to go away.

Maybe that is what I am learning today. Some things aren’t meant to be easy, but that’s okay. If they were easy, you might forget to appreciate something worthwhile.

The thought arrived somewhere around infernal fire hydrant eight this week that maybe perseverance is not sticking with something until you conquer it. Maybe perseverance is better understood as sticking with something even when you never conquer it.

There is a famous chapter in the Christian Bible all about people who did that very thing, and they called it “faith.”

Maybe I could rename my morning nemesis Faith Hill, but that would just sound silly.