Redefining Success and Failure (And breaking my own rules)

28 days ago I made a commitment to myself that I would write for 40 days straight; the next phase of this cyclical living that I’m experimenting with. The icing on the cake was to publish; have some accountability to the world.

Day 28 and I’ve stuck with this for 19 days. That’s 67% if I’m grading myself. I can’t remember if 55 or 65 was the passing score growing up. Either way I’m just scraping by.

One week in, and it was a Sunday, and I realized that trying to cram in writing on that day was actually not in the best interest of me or anyone else, so I made a new rule and new commitment. No writing on Sunday, and reserve Sunday’s for actual rest.

(I’d like to point out that means I’m off the hook for 4 of the 28 days, which increased my grade to 79%. That’s a solid B 🙂 )

Well, today is a Sunday and I’m writing. This was a premeditated breaking of my own rule. I didn’t write for the past two days and as I was laying in bed last night I knew I wanted to write today. It was an actual battle in my mind… do I honor my in-the-moment instinct to write (and scratch the itch that formed after two days off), or do I stick to the rule, for the rules sake, and wait until Monday.

I obviously opted to break the rule, and it’s made me want to talk about this more.

I have to be honest, I really struggle with getting the balance right here; of honoring the original intention or rule, and staying present to myself in the moment. My ego mind wants to know which is better? Which can I trust? Which one should I listen to?

In the past, I was swung waaaay to far onto the rule side of things. This started in highschool. I joined the cross-country and track teams and running daily was not only seen as the sure-fire way to be the best athlete you could be, it was also applauded and revered. If you could run 365 days a year without skipping a day, you joined some elite global club.

I wanted to be that good. I wanted to be that cool. I wanted the accolades and attention. So running everyday became my mission.

18 inches of snow? I had my mom drive me to the service roads along the highway where the city plowed, and I’d run 3 miles in one direction and then turned around and ran back. Two day drive to Florida for a family vacation? I made the whole family make a pitstop so I could get a 5 miler in. 8 day cruise to Bermuda? I ran laps around that friggin cruise ship like it was my job. Full day of travel visiting colleges in the autumn when it gets dark by 5pm? Dad to the rescue. He actually tailgated me around Syracuse so I get back safe.

Sticking to this plan, trying to achieve this goal, and following my rule was not just a sacrifice on my part; my whole family bended over backwards so I could run.

I ended up missing a day, even days. I don’t remember why. I do remember that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. I failed. I was worthless and no good. I felt fat.

I’d run myself into a tizzy if I missed a day, silently berating myself because I wasn’t strong, fast, or slim enough. Then I’d run twice as hard the next day.

It turned into a slight addiction. I’m not using the world loosely either. I’d track my mileage and that would be EVERYTHING to me. At first it was just the miles I counted. Then it was situps and pushups. Then calories. Then the number on the scale.

All these numbers to keep track of, targets to hit, grades to pass. I did not identify as a failure, nor know how to fail, and so the high of hitting the mark became intrinsically linked with my self-worth.

That was the addiction. I needed to achieve in order to feel good about myself. Miss any of the targets, and I was spiralling into a deep black hole of shame and self-loathing.

So you can imagine that after I got off that hamster wheel of self-destruction, I never wanted to get back on it again. Whether it was running, or weight, or money in the bank, or any other way I could easily fall into a trap of measuring myself, I did not want to become addicted again.

Which has made going anywhere near goal setting, achieving targets, and taking consistent action, really really scary. These things in and of themselves are not bad or dangerous, but knowing myself, I’ve kept them at arms length for fear I’d slip down a slippery slope; relying on them for my self-worth and my ultimate safety. I didn’t know how to embrace the healthy version where they can help support the outward expression of an already intact sense of self.

In some ways, I swung too far in the other direction; living in the moment, doing whatever feels good right here and now because, hey, I’m just going with the flow.

Balance, my friends, balance.

The latter has helped me massively. It’s introduced me to a more feminine energy that I was massively disconnected from and yet thrives within me. I like it. It’s comfy and cozy. I’m calmer. It reminds me of my bed at 7am on a cold winter’s morning. It’s safe and keeps me warm, and I relax as I linger and stare out the window.

It’s also way too easy to stay there and day dream the day away.

There’s been times over the years I’ve attempted to swing back to the more rigid structure, rule following, planning and on-target execution. I’m good for about 25% of the way there, and then I start to fizzle. It’s been hard to find a way to push past the proverbial ‘mile 20’ (although that would mean I got 76% of the way there), without pushing myself to the point of punishment.

Which means the past 6 years or so have been filled with a lot of false starts. Jumping into things because they felt right in the moment, but then I couldn’t harness that more masculine energy that is needed to see it through to fruition.

This past year I finally realized that as much as I love this new found feminine side to me, I also want to love (and do love) the part of me that can show up for myself day in and day out no matter what the weather. While my desire is no longer to go for a run come rain, sleet, or snow, I do want to make sure I am moving towards the desires of my heart regardless of what my internal (and even external) landscape is looking like.

These past 28 days have become a kind of reclamation of the beautiful dance that can happen between the masculine and feminine.

The feminine part of me felt the nudge: Honor yourself by writing every day. This is your next right move, as revealed by what I will call Wisdom. (ie it was not a logical decision with a clear reason as to why this was a good idea.)

The masculine part of me created space and continues to hold space: Set aside up to an hour each day. It’s the part of me that makes sure I choose writing over TV, even if it’s 10pm and I haven’t started yet. It’s the part of me that keeps one eye on Day 40, and how awesome it will be to look back at how everything unfolded.

The feminine part of me continues to tune in and check for the green light each day. Yes, write. It’s the best way of loving yourself today. No, not today. You need a break so you don’t crash and burn tomorrow. Yes, if you don’t it’s totally on you getting in your own way. No, wait. You’re exhausted and you have nothing but gibberish to say.

Here’s the clincher: On the days of the No, the masculine part of me loved me anyway. Even when I broke my own rule. I didn’t give myself a spanking. I didn’t beat myself up by letting my thoughts turn into a destructive tornado, or send myself out into the wind and rain to pound the pavement to pay for my sins. And I didn’t try to make up for ‘missed words’ and write more the next day, as if I was on a writing diet.

Instead, one part of me held onto the vision, the overarching intention for these 40 days, and another part of me trusted the wisdom of each moment, knowing that tomorrow there would be more wisdom to guide us through to the end.

Don’t get me wrong, there is also this less evolved part of me that wants to justify the days I’ve missed, or prove to you that writing today is OK even though its Sunday.

What a friggin waste of time. I mean if you really want to know I can tell you, but really how is that going to help you? All that will do is give you permission to skip a day of your own ‘rule’ the next time you find yourself in my exact same situation.


Your one and only job is to let wisdom speak to you and to listen to its guidance.

I’ll do the same for me.

Which means that we both may end up cycling through 40 days of the year or not. We both may end up committing to creating the same new habit or dropping a shared old habit at the same time, and how we execute that may look very different.

It’s not something you can measure. Those percentages I shared at the beginning of this writing? Totally to stroke my own ego and let it know that I hadn’t royally screwed up.

Which is really just a sign that this less evolved part of me is more like the little girl version of me still needs to know I’m doing a good job. Needs reassurance. Needs help in redefining success and failure.

I can love her too.

So let’s try this for now.

Success = When you are mastering the balance of structure and flow; masculine and feminine; consistency and presence, the doing and the being, holding the higher vision and letting go of how it manifests at the same time. Embodying all the parts of you.

Failure = when you are defined by the rule, whether or not you make it, follow it, or break it. When you lose yourself, and replace your worth with something outside of you.

When you put it that way, success seems so much more Possible. Permissible. Loveable. Even Sustainable.

Photo by AZGAN MjESHTRI on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Redefining Success and Failure (And breaking my own rules)

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