The Power of a Solid Faceplant

good life
Photo credit: Victoria Nevland

“I would rather have 30 minutes of something wonderful, than a lifetime of nothing special.” – Julia Roberts, Steel Magnolias

I’ve officially been a nurse for an entire year.  It still kind of blows my mind, especially since 3.5 years ago, the prospect of actually going to nursing school seemed so incredibly impossible. At the time, I was living south of Boston and faced long train commutes into the city to reach a school with an accelerated program.  Then there was the problem of all the prerequisites I had to take since I’d been out of college for more than seven years.  Really? I have to retake Introduction to Chemistry when I was a BIOCHEMISTRY major and actually worked in jobs where I used it?  Then, there were all the logistical problems of being a wife and mom to three, with responsibilities and extracurricular activities and dinner to make and a house to clean….and goats to take care of.  ‘Nother story there for another time.

So, I did what any sane person would do….I made the situation entirely more difficult by getting a divorce and moving to a different state to start all over.  It was a complete jumping off a metaphorical cliff.  I had no idea if any of my best-laid plans would fall into place, if I could actually survive independently as an adult after letting go of a career for nine years, and if I could, in fact, make it through more school and start working as a nurse.

Turns out, it all worked.  Somehow I still have money in the bank, I am a year into grad school, and people actually want me to work for them, both as a nurse and a writer.  My kids still think I’m a badass mom. I have the best friends a girl could ask for.  I apparently stuck that landing.

Other landings I have not stuck so well.  I’m actually well acquainted with completely effing things up, usually because I get in too big of a hurry, or I don’t trust my gut, or I’m trying too hard to make other people happy rather than do what I need to for myself. But despite a stream of periodic catastrophes trailing behind me, I think that sometimes the absolute best thing we can have happen to us in life is a solid, smackdown faceplant….a colossal screwup if you will.

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There are a bunch of variations of the following meme these days on FB that really make me laugh.

go big

As a natural introvert, holing up in my house by myself is one of my more favorite activities.  But I’ve learned that it’s also my kryptonite. It’s easier to stay home where it’s safe, where my only interactions are with those who are kind of required to accept my quirks and eccentricities because they’re called “my kids”, and not push myself out into the world to try new things and potentially face having more of my rough edges worn off in some exquisitely painful way.

I’m so much better now at actually making myself show up for things, even whenever everything inside me is screaming “Go home to your couch and Netflix! Don’t face rejection.  Don’t have yet another conversation with a complete stranger. Don’t try another thing that you may be horrible at.” It seems that when I ignore this voice and go do things that feel really hard to me anyway, that’s where the magic sauce is.

I remember years ago, one of my friends talking about how she could never be as brave as me.  I recall laughing so incredibly hard at that.  She had never seen me at my worst, never really knew the depth of anxiety and fear I have fought against since my childhood.   She never knew how many times I put on a “mask” and pretend I’ve got everything under control, when secretly I wish a big hole would open up and swallow me.

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The tough thing about choosing to do hard, scary stuff in life is that you can never really know for sure which ones are going to result in faceplants. Some change direction mid-course too…..what once looked brilliant suddenly takes a nosedive, or what seemed doomed from the start unexpectedly becomes amazing. While I’m writing this I”m thinking of some of the things I’ve done in life that scared me the most, and how they ended up turning out:

  1. Going on a medical trip to Honduras my freshman year in college with a bunch of people I didn’t know – This one turned out pretty well, and I made some good friends. It also solidified my desire to end up in healthcare.
  2. Joining the college debate team – Yeah, I pretty much sucked at this compared to my decent high school debate showing, but I had alot of fun hitting up Lousiana and Arkansas IHOPs with my debate team.
  3. Spending a summer in West Africa to fulfill my degree requirements: Probably one of the most life-changing and scary things I’ve ever done. Africa gave me malaria but lovingly sent me home with new family and lifelong friends, and an invitation to come back and faceplant again.
  4. Choosing between a PhD program I had just gotten accepted to or move to another state for a guy I met online – Everything seems like a good idea at the time, right? I chose the guy, which ended up becoming a string of faceplants that grew the hell out of me and paradoxically probably ended up being a very good life decision, painful as it has been.  Getting three great little kids out of the deal does not constitute as a faceplant, though.
  5. Submitting that first query letter to a magazine – Nothing is scarier than facing rejection about something that you are passionate about, like writing. Many of my first queries were total faceplants, but then, I got an article accepted for a legit magazine with a substantial readership, and then suddenly all my previous writing failures seemed worth it.
  6. Trying to have a kid without pain medication –  My body ultimately faceplanted here, but I did learn that I have the capacity to do active labor for 30+ hours without pain medication, twice.  That was empowering, even if I still required C-sections.
  7. Turning in a graduate paper on Sayyid Qutb for my Islamic Theology class – this might seem like a dumb thing to be scared about, but I really loved my professor and I really loved the subject….and so did not want to appear completely incompetent.  I think I got an A, and I’m still good friends with the professor. I’m probably not great at Islamic theology overall, though.
  8. Getting a divorce and starting ALL over – This has been a continuing series of small wins and small faceplants.  By far the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and by far the most worth all of my faceplants.
  9. Starting my first nursing job –This was faceplant on repeat.  When you’re learning all that you don’t know, trying to navigate asking intelligent questions while not pissing off doctors for accidentally asking stupid ones, while trying to do good time management and avoid going home two hours after your shift ends, while trying not to look like you’re on the di-la-la yourself from pure exhaustion while handing out Dilaudid to patients…. 
  10. Dating again post-divorce – I think this goes without saying. Dating after being out of the game for over ten years is no joke. I think I’ve committed plenty of faceplants I’m not even currently aware of. But, I pick myself up, reapply makeup to said faceplanted face, and do it again.

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So, why do anything that might potentially result in a faceplant?  Because, as Julia Roberts said in one of the greatest movies of all time, it’s better to have short moments of truly amazing and breathtaking, than spending an entire lifetime on this earth without experiencing anything really wonderful or meaningful. And as unfair as it may seem, life sometimes requires us to work for the really good stuff.   There’s plenty of grace out there, but vulnerability is often the key to getting the greatest gifts.

I would much rather faceplant and make a fool of myself on a daily basis then die and have to tell whoever it was that made me that I wussed out on life because I was too scared to live it, or let it live me….whichever it is.

All of my epic life faceplants have made me who I am today, and they have revealed more of who I am as my authentic self by sometimes ruthlessly peeling off all my protective layers.  Faceplants are proof that you are out there trying, attempting hard things, and growing as a person.

I continue to risk faceplanting because I want my kids to be brave in life and not be afraid to really go for it and give it all they have. If I live too carefully, they might be more likely to approach it timidly as well. I want them to live as fully human as they can, to try all the things that they are passionate about, to refuse to be held back by “what if’s” or “shoulds” or arbitrary rules telling them to play it safe all the time.

Most of all, I want to be able to look back from my deathbed and be able to say, “That was a damn good life.”  Actually, I think I’m one of the lucky ones….my 39 years, faceplants and failures and all,  has already been a damn good life.

 

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