Accepting Wisdom: Learning to Turn Failures into Knowledge and Understanding

In my last post, I talked about a relationship that began at my previous Ignite talk. It began with facing my fears, and taking a step. It began with courage, but as I soon learned, that wasn’t enough. Courage has to be augmented with more, and in the years between that talk and today, it has been. It’s been bolstered by the wisdom of others.

It’s true that my knowledge and understanding of relationships has increased ten-fold since working on Global Glue Project, but even so, I am uncomfortable with the label “relationship expert.”

2 ½ years ago, I gave an Ignite talk on commitment, and at the time I had crippling anxiety that I was presenting myself as something I was not. I never made any reference to having the answers, merely pulling the lessons from the stories I had witnessed, but I was still grossly uncomfortable. My lack of disclosure made me squirm. My relationship history is marred with countless botched relationships, including a marriage that was over before it began. Who did I think I was standing there on a stage in front of 850 people, telling them to move closer to their discomfort and wholeheartedly commit? My brother encouraged me to tell the story of my divorce, but he might as well have asked me to give my talk naked, “No way am I telling all those people about my divorce” I replied. Things have changed since then. Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity, but tomorrow night I am giving another Ignite talk, and I am going to tell 850 people that I’m divorced, and I am also going to tell them how in the months following my talk, I continued to make those same mistakes in a different relationship, one that ironically began the night of my talk.

Ignite Boulder is community event of presentations on quirky and fun topics, each talk is 5 minutes, set to 20 slides, auto advancing every 15 seconds. These talks (in my experience) are incredibly difficult and time consuming to prepare, given the format. 15 seconds goes quickly, every word counts, and there is an art form to pairing slides with what is being said in order to get a point across. Speakers use photos and graphs (unlike typical PowerPoint graphs), and many use rudimentary hand drawn stick figures—anything goes. The joke around here this week is that giving an Ignite talk can temporarily ruin your life.

For me, speaking at Ignite has become an opportunity to take stock of my life. It forces me to think—about what is important to me, and what story or message I want to impart. It honestly wasn’t until I sat down to prepare for my talk that I noticed how far I have come in my relationship with myself. I was so focused on other people’s relationships in my work, that I hadn’t noticed that their stories were working their way into me in subtle ways. I intended to write a talk solely about partnerships, offering a summary of all that I learned in these 2 ½ years, but then a talk about the relationship with myself snuck up on me.

The gulf between knowledge and wisdom is wide, but it can be bridged.  Image from
The gulf between knowledge and wisdom is wide, but it can be bridged. Image from

Throughout my life, every time I would fail at relationship and search for a new one, people would tell me that I first had to work on my relationship with myself. Frankly, I didn’t understand what they were talking about, my relationship with myself was fine, “Yeah, yeah, got that, but I’ll still be happier in partnership” and there I would go, my focus always pointing toward another person, or to Global Glue Project and the drive to figure out how couples stay together.

The Erosion of Wisdom

Like water over a rock, hearing couples’ stories one after another has moved me. I finally saw – and more importantly began to apply—all that I was learning from these couples to myself. By and large, couples around the globe speak about the same building blocks of relationship—kindness, trust, commitment, daily time, communication—and that relationships require tending to all of these to flourish. I could hear this in theory, but I didn’t actually feel it. Then without warning, and without realizing it was happening, I recently saw…. I am kinder to myself now; I do trust in who I am and in my decisions more; I do commit to and believe in myself; I adamantly set aside time daily to be with myself; I recognize when I am feeling angry, frustrated, or sad, and I actually communicate with myself about those things and acknowledge my feelings.

Intimacy has always been terrifying to me, but I finally see that it was only terrifying because I didn’t have an intimate relationship with myself. I was with myself all the time, but just like a relationship, when two people are together, that doesn’t mean they are actually intimate or communicate effectively.

It used to be a struggle to admit to the mistakes I have made in my life, especially those I have made in relationship. Admitting to my negative traits doesn’t mean I am broken, it means I am human. When we admit to our own humanity, to our struggle, and to our mistakes, we allow others to do the same. It’s when we stand in the shoes of “I’m right, and I have the answers” that we get into trouble. As naked as I feel standing up on stage telling the truth about my failures, it at least feels like me, I am not pretending to be something I am not.

And I am not claiming to have the answers. I set out to find the patterns and formulas to solve the mystery of relationship, but the truth is, there isn’t one answer or magic pill. There are universal themes of love and relating to another human being, but each couple’s story is as unique as the two individuals who make up the couple. My endless fascination with these stories comes from the fact that they are all different, and two people coming together is like a chemistry experiment with a myriad of possible reactions as two different histories and personalities come together.  A friend told me recently that they selfishly don’t want me to “figure it out” because they are learning so much from Global Glue project and the search, they don’t need to worry, the search will continue knowing an answer will not be found, but that it’s about the search itself.

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