When you take a Leap of Faith and Miss the Landing

“Go for it!”

“You got this!”

“You only live once.”

We hear inspiring stories from friends and media about people who take a great leap of faith and start something new and amazing or achieve an astonishing goal. These courageous people sometimes face and overcome great fear and doubt before reaching and succeeding.

But what about when we miss and fall on our faces?

The company we started fails and we are broke. The relationship we pursued tanks. The move to another country leaves us lonely, disappointed and lost. We have tried and tried, but we just can’t do it.

Life is full of missteps and losses. We studied for that test but still bombed it. We thought he was “the one” but he didn’t think so. We were sure we would get the job but were passed over. Most of us learn to handle these disappointments. However, there are times in the lives of the brave when we put our WHOLE selves into something paramount we believe is worthwhile; something we have always wanted or thought about doing and we crash and burn.

I’m a petite 5'1". I was always the smallest or next-to-smallest in my class growing up. A phrase I learned to use to cope with teasing was, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Consider that this also applies to the goals we reach for. There is the potential to fall hard. This often prevents us from taking that leap. The doubting voices in our head, what I call ‘the shitty committee’, will sometimes harass us into resignation. But what if you manage to overcome all obstacles and silence the board of accusers and take that step towards your goal . . . and miss? It can be devastating. We can lose our focus, our direction, even our purpose in life when this happens. How do we deal with an enormous defeat like this?

A loss of hope may result from falling short of a primary goal. There are steps we can take to recover and rejuvenate. We can have hope again.

First, respect and acceptance of the impact of a big loss are key. Everything we do has consequences. If we had not taken the big step, there would still be consequences. We would never know if we would have succeeded. We may feel cowardly for not trying. We may feel stuck or stifled maintaining the status quo. The consequences of leaping and losing are usually more immediate and can be largely painful all at once. Additionally, if our attempt was public in any way, we may feel humiliated and embarrassed as well. Having respect for ourselves and whatever we may be feeling begins the healing process. Adding insult to injury by trying to act like it’s no big deal or telling ourselves we were stupid to try will only deepen our sense of loss. What would you say to someone close to you if they had attempted what you did? If your son or daughter or best friend had failed at something monumental, how would you feel towards them? You would probably admire their courage and want to ease the pain of their failure. This is how you need to address yourself.

“Grief has its value: It reminds us what we care about. Some cultures embrace death, dying, grief, and loss like they are simply a part of life; they see no need to suppress or deny the pain. Customs and practices of grieving can be elaborate and entrenched in tradition, most of which eases suffering to some degree.

The grief that accompanies a failure or loss is very individual and should be accepted however it reveals itself. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no timeline for it.

“We overvalue the things we have, overreact when we can’t have something anymore, and resist change. In other words, we hate loss. Our hatred of it guarantees that we suffer.”

It is natural to feel angry about our failure. We may be angry with ourselves or blame someone else we think caused our loss. Dwelling in the anger is not only futile, it is toxic and will inhibit our recovery. Honor the feelings of anger and then turn towards something positive that may have resulted from the loss. This is when it is time to consider all of the good that may have come from not succeeding. Make a list. It might look like this:

  1. I don’t have to sell my car/house.
  2. I get to stay where my friends are
  3. I will get a raise from another year at my job
  4. I get to meet/date new people
  5. I can use my money for something else I want
  6. etc.

It’s a gratitude list of sorts, but specific to the loss. A general gratitude list is also very helpful to feel better by putting the focus back on what we have and take it off what we lost.

When I was in my mid 20’s I was floundering. I had a college degree but didn’t know what to do with my life. I went for career counseling. After a few visits, I realized that I had a secret desire to join the Peace Corp. It was time. I was so excited! The application process was detailed and lengthy. Seven letters of recommendation; in-person and phone interviews; information sessions; essays … It all took about nine months. Finally, I was accepted to go to my first choice country: Kenya, to teach English! I gave my landlord early notice, put a for sale sign on my car and told all my friends. I was thrilled. Then I failed to pass a medical exam. They told me I couldn’t go due to an old illness and asthma. I appealed the decision and went through another interview. I requested my doctor write a letter on my behalf. Still, I received NO. I was devastated. I felt numb and completely lost. I felt embarrassed to tell everyone I was staying. I cried. I was angry at medical personnel. I lost motivation for just about everything. Eventually, I returned to my career counselor. She was sad for me and we shared the loss. Then she redirected me to an earlier point in our discovery process: “Why did I want to go to the Peace Corps? What did I want to gain from it?” I wanted a new adventure. I wanted to see more of the world. I wanted to help people. I wanted a sense of purpose. It wasn’t long before I discovered what I could do to gain all of these things. Seeing more of the world came on a trip to Italy a year later. The rest I found with a job as a counselor for addicts and inmates. I LOVED my new career. I had hope, fulfillment, and purpose again.

I tend to believe that there is a reason for everything. I was not supposed to spend those next two years in Kenya. I was supposed to stay in Boston and help men and women who were struggling with life. I was good at my job. The trajectory of my life was something I could not have foreseen then, but having faith that everything was just as it was supposed to be helped me to hold on when it hurt. It has been almost 30 years since then. I have just made another leap of faith. I am currently in mid-air looking for the landing. My life today is good and I will remember that whether I land softly on the other side or end up face-down in the mud. It feels better to at least have tried. It’s an accomplishment.

Former addictions counselor, empty-nester, activist, animal lover, writer and lover of what it means to be human.

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