In the beginning, I sucked.
I taught a step class (gymspeak for a box-type gizmo that you step up and down on, preferably choreographed and to music) where I started out with forty people and ended up with about three. All group exercise songs are composed around an eight-count beat; in step, you "cue" the next move on the fifth or sixth beat, and then execute that move on the seventh or eighth. It's a little like spinning plates on your nose--one wrong move and the whole thing goes crashing to the ground.
That ill-fated day when I taught my first step class, the more I kept screwing it up, the more rattled I got. The more rattled I got, the more I kept screwing up. People snatched up their benches, parked them in the equipment closet and then marched out to complain to the manager about what an incompetent dumbass I was, thank you. At seventeen, you feel these failures keenly. I took my humiliation out to the car and cried until I started hiccoughing.
As a writer, I've been kicked in the teeth so many times, I'm still spitting Chiclets. If I were to tally up even an approximation of how many times agents told me to go fuck myself (agentspeak for "I wouldn't rep you if had a cure for leprosy"), it would be somewhere between 2,000-3,000 rejections. Some of those rejections were quite stinging--in even a mild perusal of those emails, the word "hate" really jumps out at you.
As a men's magazine model (yes, I was one of those, too), you are leaving yourself wide open to public criticism and some of it is pretty scathing. I did a photo shoot about two months after having my oldest son and was still a little chubby. Jesus, you'd have thought I was a candidate for lapband surgery. "Put down the Twinkies, honey," one of my more vocal detractors wrote. "No one wants to see a fat cunt like you."
Then there are the more personal failures like divorce, bankruptcy, living in your car. Having kids (I produced two) feels like its own failure because no matter how much love and attention you give them, the world is cruel and you can't protect them from all of life's vicissitudes. They don't tell you that about having kids, by the way. The anguish of not being able to throat sock the little bastard on the school bus who keeps calling your kid "retard" leaves its own scar. If you're like me, you start devising ways to poison him instead.
There were men I loved who didn't love me back when I was too young to realize that the failure to appeal to them wasn't necessarily mine to own. Most people in their twenties lead lives of quiet desperation, paranoia and misery anyway. I was no exception. Many years would pass before I'd ask myself that most important of questions: This person whose opinion of me means so much...is this someone I respect and admire? The shock of realizing that I didn't felt like a tectonic shift to a girl who assumed everything was her fault, her deficiency.
But all those psychological train wrecks, those pies thrown in my face, the public humiliations and the private ones, made me what I am today: a motherfucking badass. I wouldn't trade them for Lottery money. They were my own personal Trial by Fire. They forced me to examine my own value system. They opened my eyes to the madness of society. They made me question everything I had been brought up to believe in--the sovereignty of money, the glitter of fame. By taking one on the chin repeatedly, mercilessly, savagely by life, I became stronger. No longer did criticism level me--but then praise no longer had the power to buoy me up either.
I understand the Buddha when he says, "The fingers pointing at the moon are not the moon."
People's opinions of you, good or bad, are more a reflection of their relationship with themselves than they are a true accounting of your value.
I'm not saying I'm great and anyone who doesn't think that is an asshole. I am not great. I'm just human.
What I'm saying is that no one gets to be an authority on you. Not even you if you don't have the stones to "go there" and figure your shit out for yourself.
Failure honed the blade I use to cut through the crap.
So do it. Seek it. Fail spectacularly. Fuck it all kinds of up. Welcome the howls of protest and outrage and criticism. Let them soak into your bones. Let them forge you into stronger steel.
Because only when your lust for life exceeds your fear of failure will you ever truly live.
Are you comfortable owning a failure? I'd like to hear if you'd like to share.