Recently, I mentioned that I had done my first Tapas Life presentation to a group, and my last post was based on some comments I heard at the presentation. So is this post.
When at the end of the talk I asked the attendees to talk about what they’d learned, one fellow said, “I can fail.” So profound!
One of the things I’d talked about in my presentation is how I’d tried some things and failed at them. These are the topics of earlier posts in this blog, one about my half-time stint in the Solar Energy industry (too much of a time commitment) and the other about my attempt to teach AP Environmental Science in high school, at which I failed to find the job I wanted (and pissed away a LOT of prep time, too!)
During my 28 years in high tech, I worked hard to never fail. In fact, in all walks of life, I worked hard to never fail. I’m guessing that this sounds quite familiar to almost all the eyes currently focused on this page. In fact, if I go back through 19 years of school before that, my effort to not fail was ever-present. And then when I swapped roles with my wife, I again set to work to avoid failing as a housedad. So, we get something like 52 years during which I did much to avoid failing at anything.
But then in assembling my Tapas Life, the stakes were suddenly way, way lower! I was no longer trying to prove my competence in school or at work or even as a housedad. Nobody was relying on me to do well as I assembled my Tapas Life. Moreover, as a result of my life experience, I had become confident in myself as a human, so felt no need to prove anything more to myself.
So, I gave myself permission to embark on a variety of totally new endeavors — and then failed miserably at some of them. The ones I mentioned above, I simply gave up on — working in Solar no doubt forever, and teaching, at least for now. Others, I did miserably at, but persevered and got to a better outcome. This was true of cooking (my family wasn’t very happy with me the first year I was housedad) and piano (at the first dozen recitals with my piano group, my hands shook so uncontrollably that I almost couldn’t play at all).
What was the cost of these failures? Nothing, really. Au contraire — there was the benefit of learning. On the Solar attempt, I learned that having discovered the Tapas Life, giving up even 20 hours/week to one activity on a steady, programmed basis was too intrusive. On the teaching attempt, I finally learned Biology (which I’d never taken in school)! And I came to learn that enough Science lives in my head as to pass all the State of California science teacher exams. I sometimes describe myself as a Veritable Compendium of Useless Bullshit — and this was proof positive. 🙂
Again — no cost! I hadn’t fallen off the ziggurat that is school, where if you fail someplace along the way, the whole journey can turn into a mess. I hadn’t lost my livelihood and thus been rendered incapable of putting food on my family’s table. Those scary downsides that most live in dread of no longer had any power over me. And I’ve had enough self-confidence and self-awareness as of my 50s as to be unruffled by an abject failure here and there.
Indeed, how one frames it is soooo important. I’ve gone into each and every Tapa I’ve worked to add to my Tapas Life with the view that it is a trial: it may work out and it may not. I’ve acknowledged the fact that, more than at other times of my life, some of the things I’ve pursued as Tapas were things I didn’t know much about. Sure, I had an interest in these areas, but I truly didn’t know if they’d pan out. Some did, easily. Some did with a lot of sustained effort. Some just didn’t — I failed at them. And owing to how I approached the process, that was perfectly OK.
The fellow in the audience of my first Tapas Life presentation who said he’d learned that he could fail, said so with a voice of wonderment and awakening. I’m guessing that this was a life-changing moment for him — that his post-long-career life will be fuller and richer because of this realization, that he will be willing to take bigger risks and reap bigger rewards (and, yes, learn for some fine failures, too). He’ll be more alive.
When you step into life after your long career, do what you can to accept that the game has changed, and that for the first time in decades trying new things way out of your comfort zone is a very worthwhile experience, whether the end result is hugely successful, or whether the resulting failure merely serves to educate you about yourself.
Yoda’s observation that “There is no try” isn’t meant for the Tapas Life!