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What I Learned From Public Failure

Public Failure Feature 05132019 Kuel Life scaled

There are instances in our lives that stand out, encapsulated, caught in a freeze-frame.

I was 17, a high school senior, and was asked by the Dance Troupe to be their live singer in an assembly. I was flattered and accepted; always ready for an opportunity to be center stage. I rehearsed with the dancers for a few weeks; singing alongside them while they gracefully lept, kicked and shimmied. No group had ever done this before; crossed-pollinated school genres. The singers sang. The dancers danced. This was a first. I was excited and thrilled. The day of the assembly came. 600 kids filed into the auditorium.

what i learned from public failure

All Seemed Good:

“I was still there with that wretched mic in my hand”

We started the first number. I sang. They danced. It was terrific. I was riding high. I should have quit while I was ahead. The second song began, Beach Boys’ ‘I Get Around’. I opened my mouth to sing; but there seemed to be something wrong with the audio. The music was difficult to hear. My mic/headset glitched and I couldn’t hear myself either. I sang anyway. For the next 2.12 minutes (or forever – depending on your perspective), I muscled my way through the song. Off-key…the entire time.

I remember the pounding blood between my ears; my reptilian brain wishing, demanding, that the Earth open up and swallow me whole. To no avail. The song ended and I was still there, center stage, with that wretched mic in my hand.

37 Years Later:

Fast forward 37 years and I found myself there again. The culprit, again technology. Last week I hosted my first FaceBook Live. I carefully selected my guest (Ellise Darien a skincare expert) and thoughtfully planned the agenda to ensure value (3 Skin Routines Every Woman Over 50 Should Start). I boned-up on the platform, viewing several YouTube instructional videos, diligently taking notes. The rub? By definition; GO LIVE is GO LIVE on FaceBook. There is no ‘technical dress rehearsal’ available.

It’s FaceBook. Everyone goes LIVE all the time. What could go wrong?

“I had a decision to make”

From not being able to tag my guest into the show to clumsily placing, and keeping, my fingers on my own mic; it was a cacophony of public disaster. Luckily for me, I don’t have much of a following; yet. Unlike my very public embarrassment in front of 600 kids, this was only observed by a handful of women; comprised mostly of friends and family.

I had a decision to make. In contrast to the event in my youth that has most surely faded, if not completely disappeared, from anyone’s memory except mine; I had the ability to ‘delete’ or ‘save and post’ these 18 mins for eternity. What to do?

Why did I choose to keep it? 

Brave Despite Fear:

First, I want to remind myself that I am brave. Being brave isn’t about having no fear. This quote from author Veronica Roth, Divergent speaks to me:

“Being Fearless Isn’t the point.
That’s Impossible
It’s learning how to control your fears
And how to be free from it.”

I’m often afraid. The trick is discerning whether the fear that arises is protective or limiting. Fear can be our savior at times – telling us to lock doors, urging us to stay on well-lit streets. Fear can also be a gating factor in our success – excusing us from changing careers, rationalizing our unhealthy relationships.

I wish I had the litmus test for ‘Fear Type’. Sadly, in most cases, we won’t know until we take the risk. What’s worse? Sometimes it takes years to figure it out. Plus, at least for me, in most cases, it’s a mixed bag of protection and limitation.

Am I Improving?

“we are all beautiful works in progress”

Second, we are all beautiful works in progress. How can we tell where we’ve come from if we don’t have a benchmark or baseline? What I’ve learned is that I do better, work harder, if I can track improvement. I’m going to be honest, I’d prefer the accounting to be a bit more private. The ‘Note” I keep on my iPhone with how many times I’ve taken time to exercise and how long is a fantastic motivator and no one else has to know.

Failure Is A Blip On Life’s Screen

Third, if with the public nature and Internet-permanence of last week’s FaceBook Live I can encourage one person to take a risk and be o.k, potentially failing publicly, I will have won. The nice thing about failure is that it isn’t all encompassing or everlasting. As soon as we fail, it’s over. The slate is clean for the victory around the corner. It boils down to perspective. I find it healthy to take my life in chunks – the horrifying ‘I’ve muted myself while hosting a guest’ flashpoint quickly followed up by the ‘I held a plank for a minute’ victory.

Where do I go from here? Well, just like I did at 17; I got back on that stage a week later in a show I had been rehearsing – I will be back on FaceBook Live this coming week. Join me, my fear, and my guest as we share some insights on menopause and midlife changes.

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