Thoughts on Courage, Failure and Success

“It takes as much courage to have tried and failed as it does to have tried and succeeded.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, American author and aviator, wife of fellow aviator, Charles Lindbergh (1906-2001)

What’s the next item on our to-do list? Is it something that we look forward to doing with anticipation or do we try to shove it as far away from our thoughts as possible because we’re afraid of the potential outcome?

Chances are that we have a little bit of both on our list of things to do. Some items will be ones that we put off as long as we can get away with it, or until it becomes so noticeable that we’re not tending to it that others comment on our inactivity. Some items will be ones that we can’t wait to take care of. These may be the easy ones, the items that we can quickly complete and cross off our list.

And we do love crossing off items on our to-do list, don’t we? Why? For the very reason that checking off this task as finished and that one underway gives us a sense of accomplishment, of having made some measureable progress. We all need indications of progress. It’s how we make sense of where we stand in our recovery journey.

Yes, we love our lists, especially the ones with a lot of checked-off boxes next to the items. What we don’t like very much are those areas that we put a lot of effort into and come up short. We lump those into the category of failures, more often than not, but is that the best way to look at them? Haven’t we heard more times than we can count that we should regard everything we do as a learning opportunity? If we try something and fail, doesn’t it still afford us the chance to take some valuable bit of information from the attempt?

It’s hard to convince ourselves that we’ve learned something good from a failed effort, though, since so many of us are of the mold that equates success in only linear terms. We do this and we succeed at that. The path where we do this but don’t succeed at that but did get something valuable in the way of knowledge from the attempt doesn’t seem to come naturally.

And, truth be told, the longer that we experience these less-than-completely-successful outcomes, the less likely we are to look on the optimistic side of what just happened. In other words, it’s difficult to see how we’ve learned something if, time and time again, we don’t succeed at the attempt.

Have we ever stopped to think about the amount of effort we put into each of the things we do? With those items that we eagerly look forward to taking on, does it seem like there’s almost no effort at all required to get going on the task? In comparison, look at the things we really don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. Does that require us summoning all the grit and determination we can find?

If history is any teacher – and many recovery experts say it does play a fairly significant role – we should be able to see that we expend the same amount of effort in both situations. Whether we really enjoy doing certain things – whether because we can breeze through them quickly or we like the activity or because it makes us feel better about ourselves – or actively detest them, we are, in fact, putting out the same amount of effort.

Think not? Then consider this. What makes the difference between success and failure? Isn’t that what this really boils down to? At the outset, we may be fairly certain that we don’t have a prayer of accomplishing the task, of securing the outcome we desire. But we know that it is important for us to try. So we do give it a go. By the same token, we may know that a certain activity is something we need to do – and we even want to do it – but we don’t have any idea if we’re up to the task, if we have enough knowledge, experience, resources or whatever else it takes to make it all the way through. So, we do give it a try.

We’re calling upon the same well-spring of courage to embark upon the task – whether it results in success or failure at the end.

There are no absolute guarantees of results in this world. This truth applies to life in recovery just as much as it does to life in general. Knowing, then, that it takes as much courage to get going on something that may wind up with us either being successful or not, what’s the downside? There’s actually none. We know that we need to draw upon our courage more at certain times than others. We also know that the future isn’t a sure-fire thing. Many factors may contribute to our overall success or failure at any given time. Any one of these factors may cause us to feel a certain amount of trepidation or fear. All the more reason we call up our reserve of courage to help us get on with the business of doing what we need to do for ourselves in recovery.

Courage, success and failure – in recovery, we’re all experiencing these at varying times and in varying degrees. To the extent that we adopt a change of attitude about outcomes, looking for the bright and positive result whatever the actual outcome, will mark how quickly we’re able to make lasting and sustained progress toward the goals we set for ourselves.

We don’t generally think about being courageous. Most of us would deny that we have much courage. But we have already demonstrated an awful lot of it by virtue of completing rehab and beginning our recovery journey. We certainly didn’t know at the outset what it would be like. Even if we’d been through rehab one or more times, it’s always a little bit different. We are changed for the experience of going through rehab each time, since we take away from the time in rehab a little something different than we learned before. We are the better for it, a little more prepared to take on the challenges that we may encounter along the way.

Take heart. Have courage. It’s the only way to live life to the fullest in this new life of sobriety that we’ve chosen for ourselves.

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