My senior year of college I had the brilliant idea of writing and directing my own play. What I didn’t take into consideration was that I had never written a full length play before. I had no idea what goes into it or how long it takes to create a coherent story that works well on stage. What I had was a few scenes written in my play-writing class that had received a positive response from the other students. Since those scenes had been generated fairly quickly and the characters showed potential, I assumed I could do more of the same and whip up a full length play.
When rehearsals were scheduled to begin and the play wasn’t even remotely making sense, I decided that it was no problem – I would just workshop the scenes with my actors and use that to polish it up. Of course when you are busy working with actors, props masters, lighting designers, costumers, etc… there isn’t a lot of time or energy left to finish your play. And all of the other elements of the play hinge on having a finished script to go by. To make a long story short, opening night was one of the most painful nights of my life. Not just because the play wasn’t ready. Mostly because I wasn’t ready. When you put your creation in front of an audience and it is not up to your own standards… that hurts. Some of it was funny, some of it was real, and some of it was cliché. The audience laughed and cringed and presumably went home and forgot about it. But for me it remains one of the defining moments of my life.
Looking back on that experience with the padding of a decade, the pain has completely faded. What is left is profound gratitude and pride. That I attempted such an ambitious project. That I experienced the pain of failure. That failure did not ruin me, but made me stronger.
Every one of us has ups and downs, strengths and flaws, talents and weaknesses. The question is not whether or not we will struggle, flail, and fail but how we react to it. It is tempting to get caught up in either attacking our flaws and obsessing over them or being vanquished by them and not trying at all.
In order to develop a healthy relationship with our flaws instead, I propose that we actually pay less attention to them. First, consider your strengths. Own them, contemplate them, and decide how to use them frequently. Then apply them in service of something bigger. Using our strengths in service reinforces our sense of self-worth to the point that we are then able to face our weaknesses in a healthy way.
For most of my life I alienated people in my quest to appear as smart, strong, and together at all times. Little by little, I am learning to accept the entire package of who I am. I embrace my temper, my impatience, my jealousy, and my tendency towards extremes even as I work diligently to transform them. The more I learn to love my entire self, the stronger I feel. Your challenges may be different from mine, but if you are human, you are flawed. These flaws can either make you or break you. I believe the key to the former is compassion.
As we waste less and less energy on fighting or hiding our flaws, we can acknowledge them courageously and honestly when then appear – then practice compassion. To approach our flaws with compassion allows us to see them more clearly. From the vantage point of compassion we begin to see the possibility inherent in our struggle. From possibility comes creativity, perseverance, and the ability to serve others who share our struggles. And thus our greatest flaws become our greatest strengths.
What challenges have you faced in your life that made you stronger? Have any of your flaws helped you empathize with or even be of service to others?