It’s Not Going To Happen (Failure, Part 2)
I was recently working on a tiny project – an off-shoot of the big project I wrote about last time. This little project shared none of the consequence and importance of the big project, but it was important to me. And while it ended well with results I was happy with, it did not start out that way.
The story is long and not that interesting so I won’t bore you with it here, but when it was taking place, I did bore a friend with ALL of the details. He listened attentively to everything before he finally said something like, “At what point did you think, ‘Forget it, this is not going to happen?’” I barely paused before I said with certainty, “Oh no, I never thought that! That wasn’t a choice!” We both laughed.
This is symbolic for the big project because so many times I thought, “This is not going to happen.” Even though it really felt like that sometimes, it also equally felt unfathomable that something I could give so much time and energy to could not happen as I expected.
Those of us in the trenches laugh about the moments when we thought it was over. We each had different times when we thought we should pull the plug – or, more accurately, thought we had no choice but to pull the plug. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was texting my best friend with something like, “It’s over. It’s not happening. I need to update my resume. This is a major failure.” I can’t remember now which disaster moment that was but of course none of that was true even though it felt very real in the moment.
I know I said it felt unfathomable that something I was giving so much time and energy to could not go as expected. This is something unfathomable to someone like me who values the pursuit of excellence and working hard. I’ve thought about this a lot over the past several years. I’ve thought about how it would absolutely feel like a reflection on me if it didn’t happen, and yet I’ve also thought about how sometimes things just don’t work out. We are fortunate that our project is working out, but that does not always happen.
This is the gift and the lesson of our big project: sometimes (often? always?) these things are beyond our control. We can do everything that we can control: we can work hard, we can be thoughtful, we can consider every angle, we can assemble effective teams, we can make hard decisions with the greatest hope that they are the right ones, but in the end, we are sometimes (often? always?) not solely responsible for any one thing.
I talk a lot about gratitude and how important it is for me, and this is a perfect example of why it matters: sometimes when I think about our project, I have no idea how we actually got here – on the brink of getting the result we want – and I don’t really need to know. What I do know is that I need to feel grateful, and I do.
I also feel grateful – most of the time 😉 – that it’s in my DNA to never give up and to do whatever is needed to get to where I want to go, but I also now feel awakened to the idea that something could not go as planned even if I didn’t give up. Sometimes things just don’t work out. And if that happened, I would be okay. I might be sad and disappointed and lots of other feelings that would reflect the moment, but I would be okay.
Except for the 38th lesson in my 38 Things I Know for Sure post from February, I had not previously written anything about this project while it’s been going on. I think part of me never felt it was safe to do so because the outcome felt so uncertain so often. There’s more certainty now and so this is my second post about “the big project.” (The first was Failure.) It’s also very important for me to say that I have not been alone in undertaking this big project, and I hope nothing I ever write on the topic makes it seem that way. As I wrote in my 38th thing I know for sure: “Persevering with a team – especially a team embodying mutual respect, hard work, attention to detail, good sense and good humor – makes persevering the only option even when it feels like it isn’t.”