I've always had trouble believing memoirs and case studies. It's only common sense to surmise that most of this shit is made up.
- For one thing, anybody writing a thing about themselves is creating a character, and they have a vested interest in making that character sound good. But most of life is a drumbeat of failure. (Consider that the ultimate "retirement plan" is bodily and brain decay, followed by death.)
- Second, "it's a small world after all" and the only currency we really own is trust. Once you blow someone's confidentiality - whether it's your ex-spouse's or your former employer's - good luck with finding your next "victim," unless they're a total exhibitionist. And free speech aside, it's a litigious world; a person is smart to be concerned about getting sued.
- Third, though it's true that "wild" headlines get a lot of attention, most people can't take too much reality. An action movie ends with the bad guy dead. A romance novel closes with true love. Just the same, viewers want any accounting of someone's business achievements to be positive and hopeful, a document of success. For that is what gives them hope.
So it is hard to get a "real" case study. But when I can get one, it's usually in real life, when the cameras aren't rolling and there is no pen and paper.
Here are the kind of things that inspire me.
- The Polish immigrant who never had a big career, who died an agonizing death of Parkinson's, but whose behavior taught three generations how to be a mensch. That was Reb Dovid Garfinkel, my great-grandfather, olov hashalom, may he rest in peace.
- The social activist who wrote on Facebook that they are two years sober as of yesterday. Every day is a struggle. They are counting every single one.
- The woman raising her son alone, whose work obligations led her to nearly being raped, but who kept her wits about her and somehow talked the guy out of it. Who was in an airport when some sheik tried to "buy" her. Who was locked in a hotel room for three months by an insane feminist boss who insisted that the women work twice as hard. Who never, ever gave up trying to mentor others and help them succeed.
- The colleague who almost died from a sudden illness and who woke up one day and said dammit, if life is really this fragile then I'm getting my degree. In mid-career, mid-life, with a raft of family responsibilities, with no particular support from anyone, this person got up and just plain did it. Why? Because every credit mattered personally, to them.
- Myself, when I want so bad to eat that piece of cheesecake in the fridge but say no and have a cup of decaf instead. Even though tomorrow I'll probably have pizza; even though the march toward middle age usually comes with "baggage." I smile when I think that I handled overeating, just that once.
Since the fact is that we're all doomed, and much of life involves dealing with failure, why do we talk about "the pursuit of happiness?" If you watch Leonardo di Caprio in The Revenant, he was satisfied with raw bear flesh, and I don't think it tasted all that good.
Instead, as the writer Penelope Trunk has pointed out (based on significant research), the better life objective is meaning. Whether we're doing well or badly, are we doing things that matter to us?
And if we fall on our asses again and again - are we reframing that experience in our own minds, so that we understand it as a form of progress?
It seems to me that what matters is doing what matters to us. Over and over and over.
As long as we are learning, we can only "fail up."
Copyright 2015 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Dr. Blumenthal is founder and president of BrandSuccess, a corporate content provider, and co-founder of the brand thought leadership portal All Things Brand. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Alex Indigo via Flickr (Creative Commons)